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Joe Santoro: Boise can be beat at Boise

Boise State linebacker DJ Schramm (52), carrying the Dan Paul Hammer, running back Tyler Crowe (33), right, carrying the Bleed Blue flag, and Boise State safety Tyreque Jones (21), left, carrying the American flag, lead Boise State on to the field to face Oklahoma State on Sept. 18, 2021, in Boise, Idaho. Oklahoma State won 21-20. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

Boise State linebacker DJ Schramm (52), carrying the Dan Paul Hammer, running back Tyler Crowe (33), right, carrying the Bleed Blue flag, and Boise State safety Tyreque Jones (21), left, carrying the American flag, lead Boise State on to the field to face Oklahoma State on Sept. 18, 2021, in Boise, Idaho. Oklahoma State won 21-20. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

The Boise State Broncos are beatable. The Broncos, losers of two of their first three games for the first time since 2005, are stunned, staggered, bewildered, baffled, confused and confounded right now, maybe for the first time this century.
It was in 1999, after all, that the Broncos started their two decade-plus run of excellence and have never looked back. Well, the Broncos are now looking back, forward and everywhere for answers.
They blew a 21-0 lead in a 36-31 loss at Central Florida in Orlando, Fla., to start the year and then gave away a 20-7 lead in a 21-20 loss to Oklahoma State at home this past weekend. Yes, at home, on the Boise State blue turf where the Broncos almost never lose.
The Nevada Wolf Pack knows as well as anyone how unbeatable the Broncos have been in Boise. The Pack, which plays at Boise State next weekend on Oct. 2 after a bye week this week, has played 20 games against the Broncos in Boise and has lost 18 of them.
So, yes, we are saying the Pack has a chance to win on Oct. 2. We are, in fact, saying the Pack has a very good chance. The Broncos are no longer unbeatable at home. They can’t hold a big lead at home or on the road. They don’t even have a winning record right now and won’t on Oct. 2. They are dazed and dumbfounded. They are ripe for a Wolf Pack picking.
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Is it too late to get the Pack’s game at Boise State on Oct. 2 moved to Chris Ault’s 75th birthday on Nov. 8? The Wolf Pack has only won two of 20 games at Boise State against the Broncos and, you guessed it, both of the victories came on Ault’s birthday.
Ault was the head coach in 1986 when the Pack won 21-16 at Bronco Stadium on his 40th birthday and he turned 51 when the Pack won on Boise’s blue turf 56-42 in 1997 for head coach Jeff Tisdel.
“This is the best birthday present I’ve ever had,” Ault said after the 1986 win. “I’m 40 but I feel like I’m 60.”
Ault also said something that night that, well, turned out to be all too prophetic for the Pack. “You don’t beat Boise at Boise,” he said.
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Ault was certainly no expert at beating Boise State. He was just 8-17 against Boise State in his career, though he was the first Pack coach to beat the Broncos in Boise and his 1990 and 2010 Pack each won Mackay Miracles against the Broncos.
Ault lost by 37, 35 and 31 points to the Broncos from 2004-06 before quarterback Colin Kaepernick arrived to save his legacy. Ault was just 29 years old the first time he faced the Broncos in October 1976 and 66 the last time in December 2012. It’s possible he felt 86 after the 27-21 loss to Boise State on Dec. 1, 2012 since he would retire by the end of the month.
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Just two Pack quarterbacks have ever won at Boise State against the Broncos. A third, Carson Strong, won at Boise this past December, but it was against Tulane in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Boise blue magic carpet, after all, doesn’t waste its magic on the Tulane Green Wave.
Eric Beavers was the first Pack quarterback to beat the Broncos in 1986 and John Dutton was the last to do it in 1997. Dutton set the Pack record for passing yards in that game with 557 (since broken by David Neill with 611 against New Mexico State in 1998).
Neither victory in 1986 and 1997 was unexpected. The Pack was ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA in 1986 and Boise State had lost 16 of its previous 22 games going into the 1997 game. The Broncos, by the way, would be 1-3 on Oct. 2 for the first time since 1996 if they lose at Utah State this Saturday on the road. It might be time for the Pack to party like its 1996 and 1997 all over again on Oct. 2.
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Beating Boise State at Bronco Stadium is not such a daunting task anymore. They are 0-1 at home this year already thanks to Oklahoma State. The Broncos also lost at home to BYU last year, to San Diego State and Fresno State in 2018, to Virginia in 2017 and to New Mexico and Air Force in 2015. The Broncos are just 6-5 over their last 11 games home and away since the end of the 2019 season.
Yes, a win on Oct. 2 in Boise will send Pack fans dancing into the Northern Nevada streets, just like in 1990 and 2010.
But this isn’t the same Boise State program. The pandemic hit the Broncos hard last year. It was common for a half dozen or more Broncos to sit out a game last year because of COVID-19 protocols. The Broncos were just 5-2 a year ago, losing the Mountain West championship game to, of all programs, the San Jose State Spartans. Boise State then lost head coach Bryan Harsin to Auburn three days later. The Broncos were stunned.
Judging by their second half performances against Central Florida and Oklahoma State (just seven points scored combined), the program is still a bit dazed and confused.
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How can you beat Boise State? Well, Chris Vargas and Colin Kaepernick, let alone Dutton and Beavers, don’t have any eligibility left. So that is not an option. The Pack might want to consider running the ball.
Yes, I understand that goes against everything the Air Raid stands for. We’re not against throwing the football. Dutton’s 557 yards and five touchdowns in 1997 at Boise State were incredible. But Central Florida’s Isaiah Bowser ran for 172 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries against the Broncos this year and Oklahoma State’s Jaylen Warren carried the ball 32 times for 218 yards and two scores to beat Boise. It’s all there on film. Pack running backs Toa Taua and Devonte Lee can do the same, if only given the chance.
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The game on Oct. 2 will be the first game between the two rivals since 2018. The Pack and Broncos, thanks to the genius of the Mountain West, have only played each other twice since 2014. The Pack and Broncos, of course, should play every single year. It is one of the best rivalries on the west coast and certainly in the Mountain West.
But the ridiculous Mountain West schedule, mainly because the two programs are in different divisions, did not play each other in 2015 and 2016 and again the last two years.
The two programs played each other 38 times from 1971 through 2011, before both were members of the Mountain West at the same time (Boise joined the Mountain West in 2011 and the Pack followed the next year). They played each other 14 years in a row from 2001-14 and 13 years in a row from 1979-91.
Yes, some of the matchups were painful for Pack fans, like from 1999 through 2006 when Boise won seven games by an average of 38.6 points. But even some of the Pack losses, like the unforgettable 69-67 four-overtime epic in 2007, were amazing.
Stick the Pack and Broncos in the same division, if that’s what it takes for them to play each other every year. Wake up, Mountain West.

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