Broncos show they can play | NevadaAppeal.com

Broncos show they can play

Boise State used to be known as the school with the “Smurf Turf.”

The blue turf is still there, but the Broncos have proven ever since entering the Western Athletic Conference that they can play some football as evidenced by their back-to-back conference championships.

The Broncos, 5-0, are currently ranked 18th in one poll and 21st in another. Their goal is to inch up to at least No. 12 and be eligible for a BCS bowl game.

Coach Dan Hawkins’ squad has the longest winning streak in the country at 16 games, and they have won 29 of their last 30 games. They have won 22 straight at home, also the longest current streak in the nation.

“There are 30,000 fans raising Cain,” SMU coach Phil Bennett said. “They don’t feel like they can lose there.”

“There’s excitement in the stadium,” Hawkins said. “The fans get after it. There’s a lot of electricity. It’s difficult (for teams) because of the noise factor.”

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It’s a team that is strong in all phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams.

The Broncos get a lot of notoriety because of their offense. They have led the nation in scoring three of the last four years, and are zeroing in on another No. 1 ranking. They are currently averaging 46.2 points per game.

The Boise State defense is quietly making a name for itself. The unit, led by linebackers Andy Avalos and Korey Hall, is ranked second in the country against the run.

“I think most championship teams are built from the ground up,” Hawkins said. “That means running the football and stopping the run. We spend a lot of time on it.

“Our front is very strong, we have pretty good linebackers and we expect our secondary players to tackle. It’s a combination of all three things.”

— The season is nearly half over and already UTEP has won more games (3-2) than it did the entire season in 2003 (2-11).

Much of the credit has to go to Mike Price, the architect of the Miners’ 24-21 upset of Fresno State last Saturday in Fresno.

“I think it was a solid win against a team that I have a lot of respect for,” Price said. “They’re going to win a lot of games the rest of the season. We played just well enough to win. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

Many coaches in the WAC felt UTEP would be much improved this year with Price at the helm, and those predictions have been accurate.

“I thought they had good athletes (last year),” Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. “Any time you get a new coach, it means change. When you have a guy like Mike Price with his track record, it’s easy to buy into his system, and I think the system is great. They are going to be a team to contend with depending on how the recruiting goes (the next couple of years).”

— There are still at least three WAC teams that are playing two quarterbacks nearly every game – Nevada, Rice and SMU.

The Mustangs lost starter Chris Phillips to injury a few weeks ago, and he is expected to see a doctor today. There is a chance he could end up red-shirting. That leaves Bennett with JC transfers Tony Eckert and Jared Romo at the helm, and the coach said he would prefer to settle on one guy.

Eckert completed 9 of 14 passes for 138 yards, and Bennett second-guessed himself for pulling Eckert out in the second quarter and replacing him with Romo.

“I put Jared in for a series to give us a running game,” Bennett said. “It got our timing off. I’m going to try and stick with Eckert longer (next game).”

Romo had a 60-yard run against Rice, and was one of the team’s leading rushers, which is why Bennett likes to get him in games.

— It’s hard to believe Bennett took a pass on former Dallas prep star Ryan Moats out of Bishop Lynch High School (he was named as the Dave Campbell Texas Private School 2001 Player of the Year).

Bennett said that 16 players had given commitments out of high school and junior college under the previous coaching staff and the SMU coach felt he had to honor those agreements.

“We didn’t have a scholarship,” Bennett said. “I tried to get him to walk on for a semester. He went to the same school as Chris Phillips so we knew all about Ryan.

“We were trying to build a relationship with the high school coaches, and we felt we needed to do that (honor scholarship offers).”

Moats has turned into one of the top running backs in the nation with three 200-yard games this season.

— WAC commissioner Karl Benson said the Fresno State at Boise State game on Oct. 23 in Boise is expected to be shown on ESPN 2 at 8:15 MT. However, Benson said that ESPN reserves the right to make any changes, and that he would know by next Monday.

“In talking with them today, they believe the game will have some national interest,” Benson said. “It will be a meaningful game.”

Benson had hoped that the ESPN Game Day crew might make the trip to Boise State, but with Fresno State having lost two straight games, the game has lost a little bit of its luster. Many around the conference thought that both teams would be undefeated going into the contest.

— Rice fullback Ed Bailey, who scored four touchdowns and rushed for 158 yards for the Owls in their 44-10 win over SMU, was named WAC Offensive Player of the Week. Bailey beat out Nevada’s Chance Kretschmer, who rushed for a season-high of 178 yards on 34 carries in the 48-26 loss to Hawai’i.

Linebacker Robert Rodriguez from UTEP was named the top defensive player after racking up 11 tackles and intercepting a pass in the Miners’ 24-21 win over Fresno State. Rodriguez intercepted a pass near midfield with 1:58 left in the game to seal the outcome.

Chad Owens of Hawai’i was named the top special teams player. Owens returned three punts for 80 yards, including a 75-yarder for a score in the 48-26 win over the Wolf Pack. The punt return came in the third quarter, giving Hawai’i a three-touchdown bulge.

Darrell Moody can be reached at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281.