Boise State Pounds Utah in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas
A single loss -- the only one in the last 27 games -- made sure of that for Boise State.
But Wednesday night's dominating 26-3 win in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas over Pac-12-bound Utah sure felt good to the No. 10 Broncos.
"It is what it is," BSU junior quarterback Kellen Moore said after winning game MVP honors with 319 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-38 passing. "We still had a great season and, I feel, had a great team."
There are few that will dispute that.
The 12-1 Broncos missed out on another BCS bowl game by just a few inches but leave the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West as arguably the top non-automatic qualifying team in the country.
And despite a lousy first quarter and numerous missed opportunities against the Utes, Boise State outclassed its 19th-ranked opponent in virtually every way. Piling up 523 yards of offense and limiting Utah to just 200, the Broncos turned an early close game into a game that might not have been as close as the 23-point final margin indicated.
"With the defense playing that well, I knew, I knew, that we'd hit a stride and get it going," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.
That stride came, for the most part, in one play.
Trailing Utah 3-0 in the second quarter, Boise State saw senior safety Winston Venable jump into the offensive huddle and fire his team up with a spirited pep talk.
One play later, the Broncos were in the end zone -- Doug Martin busted through the line and sprinted past a handful of Utah defenders for a bowl record 84-yard touchdown run.
"One-play drives are huge momentum changers," Moore said.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham couldn't have agreed more.
"I was contemplating a fake punt on the play before that," Whittingham said. "In hindsight, I wish we had dialed that up."
Too late for wishful thinking, obviously, as Boise State turned on the jets after that and, aside from a slew of turnovers and missed opportunities, crushed the Utes from that point forward.
"Fortunately for us, football is a long game," Moore said. "The defense really kept us in it."
Utah had only eight first downs in the game and managed only 93 rushing yards as the Utes, too, shot themselves in the foot plenty of times with dropped passes, fumbles and drive-killing penalties.
Boise State will not be joining Utah in the Mountain West Conference next year. Instead, the Broncos are giving the Utes a big kick in the tail as they exit the conference.
With the Utes headed to the Pac 12 next year, Boise State made sure they left the Mountain West with their first post-season loss in a decade.
"Our players and our program have been very proud of that," Whittingham said, trying to wrap his head around how Utah's run in the MWC came to a close.
Moore and Martin made sure the Utes didn't leave the conference with much of a warm, fuzzy feeling.
For about 21 minutes, though, Boise State (12-1) looked like the team that might end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Boise State gave Utah every opportunity in the world to build an early lead. A pair of fumbles, an interception and a botched fake punt from the Broncos were turned into only three Ute points.
And against any football team, let alone a Top 10 squad like Boise State, wasting opportunities to put a team down early is a recipe for disaster.
But even after holding the Broncos scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season and giving Boise State it's first regulation deficit since the season-opener against Virginia Tech, Utah (10-3) couldn't do much on offense.
Senior quarterback Terrance Cain, starting in place of injured sophomore Jordan Wynn, struggled throwing the ball accurately and even when his throws were on target his receivers dropped them.
Utah went nowhere following the fourth turnover (counting the fake punt) and after punting the ball away watched Boise State's Martin answer with his run through the line and down the Utah sideline for a touchdown.
The Broncos, with Moore returning next season, figure to again challenge for a BCS bowl appearance in 2011. And though they missed out on that by the narrowest of margins this year, pounding Utah into the soggy turf at Sam Boyd Stadium wasn't a poor substitute, if they had to pick one.