Special teams are a thing

Here is today’s Scott Slant column. It’s a difficult day in Boise, and this is low-priority right now. Read on if you like, and please keep yesterday’s victims in your thoughts.

There was no better conversation-starter for this week’s Boise State-Colorado State game than what happened to CSU at the end of their 26-24 loss at Utah State last Friday. The Rams got a first down at the Aggies’ 24-yard line with 11 seconds remaining, stopping the clock to move the chains. Instead of spiking the ball, it was a mad scramble, as CSU inexplicably rushed its field goal unit onto the field. The Rams missed the field goal, and coach Steve Addazio stunningly blamed the sudden unit change on his players. Broncos coach Andy Avalos certainly understands the importance of special teams. “The games that we’ve been successful in, we’ve been able to have game-changing plays,” Avalos said Monday. Colorado State certainly understands game-changing plays.


Boise State scored three first-half touchdowns on CSU on special teams last November, as Avery Williams blocked two punts that resulted in touchdowns (one that he took in himself) and Kekaula Kaniho ran 91 yards for a TD with a field goal that was blocked by Scott Matlock. In 2018, Williams fumbled after returning a punt 10 yards, and Kaniho picked it up and ran the remaining 74 yards for a touchdown. And in 2017, there was perhaps the most perfectly-executed onside kick in Broncos history, with Joel Velazquez bouncing it to Cedrick Wilson in Boise State’s dramatic 59-52 come-from-behind overtime win at CSU. Yes, special teams are a thing.


With CT Thomas having departed, the Boise State depth chart has been adjusted in advance of the Colorado State game. It’s just a piece of paper, but it has Davis Koetter now backing up two of the three wide receiver spots. If we put any stock into that, it would mean: 1) Koetter has bounced back from the injury he suffered at BYU, and 2) the plethora of young receivers in the room aren’t ready to be bumped up yet. Avalos says Koetter is able to play both inside and outside, hence the “double backup.” But, adds Avalos, “We have seven guys that we feel confident about, easily.” That includes redshirt freshman Latrell Caples. “A few of those guys obviously have been banged up, Latrell being one,” Avalos said. Caples made his first career catch against UTEP and also played in the Oklahoma State game, but he hasn’t played since.


Boise State’s COVID-abbreviated 2020 season lasted seven games, and we’ve made it through seven games this season. So there are some easy comparisons to be made. I’ll pick out some of the significant things. One is scoring, as the Broncos are averaging only 29.4 points per game, down 4½ points from last season. The running game is obvious. On offense, the rushing average is a woeful 84 yards per game, down 23 yards a game from last season, which at 107 yards was already the worst number in the Mountain West. Defensively, Boise State is yielding 196 yards per game rushing, up 32 yards from last year. This is one that’s probably not being talked about enough, though. After finishing second in the nation last year in preventing third down conversions at 27 percent, the Broncos have ballooned to 44.


On the other hand, Boise State is allowing 22.1 points a game, trimming five points off last year’s average. The Broncos’ passing game is up considerably, from 242 yards per game in 2020 to 279 this season. But the most stark improvement this year has been in turnover margin, from minus-4 last season to plus-7 now. The Broncos, of course, forced only three turnovers in seven games last season. All were on interceptions, and two of those were on desperation throws on the final play of the game. So far in 2021, Boise State has forced 17 turnovers—eight picks and nine fumble recoveries.


Matt Wells didn’t even get three years at Texas Tech after departing Utah State. Wells was fired Monday after 30 games and a 13-17 record. The Red Raiders are 5-3, but they blew a 14-point lead against Kansas State Saturday and lost 25-24. Tech also was just 7-16 in Big 12 games under Wells, and only twice did they beat conference opponents with winning records. Last winter, he tried to answer the clamoring for more Mike Leach-type explosiveness by firing offensive coordinator David Yost and replacing him with Sonny Cumbie, a former Texas Tech quarterback under Leach. Cumbie is now interim head coach. Wells left Logan for Lubbock at the end of the 2018 regular season after leading the Aggies to a 10-2 record, the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense and a spot in the Top 25.


College of Idaho hopes to maximize the momentum of Saturday’s thriller—the 48-42 double-overtime win over Montana Western at Simplot Stadium. It was the first two-overtime game in school history. The Coyotes are one game behind Rocky Mountain in the Frontier Conference. They just need to keep winning when they play at Southern Oregon this week. Two Yotes in particular have momentum. Capital High grad Ryan Hibbs broke school records against the Bulldogs with 30 completions and an 86 percent completion percentage. Mountain View High product Dylan Martinez racked up a C of I record 22 tackles. The duo swept Frontier Conference Player of the Week honors.

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October 26, 1985: Perhaps the biggest upset in the history of WAC football, as UTEP’s only win of the year comes against defending national champion BYU, a 35-point favorite heading into the game. The Miners went with an unusual defensive scheme, using only two down lineman, to hold Cougars quarterback Robbie Bosco to 151 yards passing and four interceptions. UTEP’s 23-16 victory snapped BYU’s 25-game WAC winning streak and was only the Miners’ 14th win in an 11-season span.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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