Simply Winning Isn't Good Enough for Boise State
LARAMIE, Wyo. – They don't give extra credit for style, but Austin Pettis went ahead with the somersault anyway, his body flipping head over heels in the end zone, a silly stunt guaranteed to make the weekend TV highlights. Might as well, right? Anything to nudge Boise State back into the public discourse.
Oh, the Broncos were well aware of what the rest of the college football intelligentsia had been muttering and snickering. The Boise State players swore they couldn't see past the symbolic blinders attached to their helmets, but they knew. They knew everyone outside of the Gem State thought their rousing opening-night triumph over Virginia Tech had been sullied when the Hokies stunningly spit the bit the following weekend, losing to James Madison and putting a serious hitch in Boise State's BCS title-game-or-bust agenda.
So was this enough to stop the eye rolls from those who believe no true contender can possibly come out of the splintering and powerhouse-empty Western Athletic Conference? There wasn't much more Boise State could have done in its 51-6 thumping of Wyoming Saturday night, but all that flash and sizzle won't mean a thing if the Broncos don't do it again next week against No. 25 Oregon State, then sail through the WAC and emerge from the season a perfect 12-0.
That's all it'll take to get the Broncos back to Glendale, Ariz., a place where Boise State has been known to show off its gutsy gadget plays and celebrate an undefeated season. The Broncos were there last January, upsetting TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, and it's clear they're telegraphing messages to voters they have every intention of returning to Arizona for this season's title game.
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore was slightly out of breath when he reached the tunnel underneath War Memorial Stadium, just minutes after laying a half century on the Cowboys. The thin air in these parts makes it feel as if someone's taken a cleaver to the lungs and ripped them into tiny parts, so maybe that's why Moore seemed to be exhaling deeply. Or maybe his brain was still fast-forwarding through all the fine things the Broncos offense had done to dissect Wyoming in front of its rabid home crowd.
"Play fast early, get on top early, create mojo and keep it going," Moore, the junior QB was saying, after the Broncos struck quickly and never let their feet off the throttle for 60 dominating minutes. "There are style points but not necessarily for the nation. They're for us."
If Pettis, the Broncos' effervescent wide receiver, didn't know that before, he sure does now. Boise State coach Chris Petersen gave Pettis the hook after his flip into the end zone (photo above) put the Broncos up 17-0 midway through the first quarter. If there had been a blackboard on the sideline Petersen surely would have had Pettis write "I will not showboat" again and again, Bart Simpson style. Watching from the bench as the Broncos won their 16th straight game must have crushed Pettis, who had three catches for 88 yards before landing in the doghouse.
"There's a right way to do it and a wrong way," Petersen (photo below right) said of Pettis' stunt. "Message sent. We need to not do that. We're smarter than that."
Even without Pettis the Broncos were an offensive whirl, piling up 648 total yards, 275 on the ground, 373 in the air, a perfect 5-for-5 in the red zone. Doug Martin had 105 yards on 17 carries, breaking tackles and keeping plays alive behind a physical and ornery line. Moore threw for two touchdowns and completed 20-of-30 attempts, two that hung like a silver moon in the thin mountain air.
One was "a duck," Moore said with a laugh, but the other was a thing of beauty from the Heisman hopeful. A flea flicker, a play Moore said the Broncos haven't run in awhile, went from Moore handing off to D.J. Harper, who then flipped it back to Moore, who flung the ball to Pettis breaking free at midfield, the end zone in clear view. It would have been YouTube worthy right there, but Pettis decided to finish with an exclamatory flip.
"Don't ask me, I didn't see the end of it," said Moore, who watched the play from his backside.
It's hard to blame the Broncos for adding sizzle to their 16-game winning streak. It had been a draining couple weeks for the Broncos, with their early season bye coinciding with Virginia Tech laying a rotten egg. That caused the Broncos to drop from No. 2 all the way to No. 6 in the simulated BCS Standings, a sure sign that for the rest of the season they can't just win, they have to do it with a loud, spectacular thump if they want to be considered valid championship material.
Saturday's win reverberated with the Broncos crushing a Wyoming team coming off a tough loss against sixth-ranked Texas and dealing with the aftershocks of the death of freshman linebacker Ruben Narcisse, who died Sept. 6 in a car accident. Coach Dave Christensen had said he could still see the pain in his players' faces, and when they walked out of the locker room and marveled at every seat crammed with folks wearing yellow and brown, it was impossible not to inhale sharply.
"There was excitement from the crowd from the Cowboy Walk," Wyoming safety Shamiel Gary said. But emotion wasn't enough to sweep the Cowboys to an upset, not with the Broncos defense chasing Wyoming quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels around all evening, forcing him to go sideways and criss-cross and backward, until he must have felt he had run a half-marathon.
Turnovers were good fortune for Boise State last year, and Saturday the trend continued, beginning with a bad snap that whizzed past Carta-Samuels' head in the first quarter, the ball tumbling down the field. Shea McClellin recovered it for the Broncos in the end zone for a 10-0 lead and momentum that rumbled into a blitzkrieg. That was the first of three turnovers forced by the Broncos as they held the Cowboys to minus-21 yards rushing and 135 total yards.
"Boise State looked the part of a top-ranked team," Christensen said. "They were everything they were built up to be. Their offensive line is very powerful with good power on both lines, but that's not their only strength. I'm still trying to figure out where a weakness might be."
The rest of the country will be peering through microscopes at the Broncos next Saturday when they play their first game of the season on their designer field against Oregon State, in primetime, before a national audience. Leaning against a wall outside the visitor's locker room here, Petersen was already preparing for the drum rolls and the chatter and the questions that will buzz around Boise all week. So 22 of the Broncos' 24 starters from that 14-0 season are back, hunger and experience dripping from their pores? If computers knew what it was like to feel or bleed, Boise State wouldn't be the dweebs in this never-ending debate.
"We won't listen to them," Petersen promised, though he must know there isn't a bubble large enough to shield his team, no earplugs that will keep out all the noise. They'll hear it, sure as their turf is blue. All the Broncos have to do be is perfect. That's all the nation asks.