Pack ready to play on Smurf Turf
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – Jonathon Amaya has dreamed of beating the Boise State Broncos.
“Winning this game would mean a lot to me,” the senior free safety said of today’s (7:05 p.m., ESPN2) Western Athletic Conference showdown at Boise State against the undefeated (11-0) Broncos. “This game has been on my mind for a while now.”
Amaya, and no current Wolf Pack player, has ever beaten the Broncos. Boise State, ranked sixth in the current Bowl Championship Series standings, owns a nine-game winning streak against the Wolf Pack.
The streak, which began when Bill Clinton was president, involves three Pack coaches (Jeff Tisdel, Chris Tormey and Chris Ault) and three from Boise (Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins and Chris Petersen). The last Wolf Pack victory over Boise State was on Nevada Day, 1998 (52-24) when Tisdel was head coach and quarterback David Neill passed for 355 yards.
“Winning this game is our goal,” Amaya said. “It’s been our goal for as long as I can remember.”
Nobody has to remind the Wolf Pack what today’s game means to them personally and for the program. A victory over Boise (6-0 in the WAC) would give the Wolf Pack (8-3 overall and 7-0 in the WAC) its first outright WAC championship (the Pack shared the 2005 title with Boise and Fresno State).
But it means so much more than that.
“Like I’ve said before, this is the biggest game of my life,” Wolf Pack junior running back Vai Taua said. “You don’t get opportunities like this very often in college football. You have to take advantage of them when they come along.”
It has been suggested that this game is the most important in Wolf Pack history.
“I think it is,” senior offensive tackle Alonzo Durham said. “This is for a championship. We haven’t been in this situation in a long time.”
Boise State, which has competed against the Pack in three different conferences (Big Sky, Big West, WAC), owns a 23-12 lead in this all-time series. Ault, who beat the Broncos in a memorable triple-overtime game in the Division I-AA playoff semifinals in 1990, is just 7-15 lifetime against six different Boise State coaches (Jim Criner, Lyle Setencich, Skip Hall, Pokey Allen, Hawkins and Petersen).
“They are the class of the conference, no question,” Ault said. “We are going to have to play our best game of the season to beat them.”
The Wolf Pack will bring an eight-game winning streak to Boise. The Broncos are riding an 11-game streak.
“We’re not in the Boise category yet, in terms of winning with consistency,” Ault said.
Ault, whose team will close out the regular season against Boise, insists all of the pressure will be on the home team. Boise State, after all, is hoping to finish the year unbeaten (they’ll close out their regular season Dec. 5 against New Mexico State) and earn a BCS bowl game invitation.
A Wolf Pack win today means both teams will be in the mix for invitations to either the New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque, N.M.), Humanitarian Bowl (Boise) or Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu).
If teams from other conferences don’t have enough bowl eligible teams, WAC teams could be possibly be considered for the Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego, Calif.).
“They have the target on their back in our conference,” Ault said. “We say that every year. Nothing changes with Boise. Every year they are the team to beat.”
The Wolf Pack is certainly not the only team the Broncos have dominated over the last decade. Boise State is 119-20 since the start of the 1999 season. Since joining the WAC in 2001, the Broncos are 76-6 in league games, 34-0 at home. Petersen, who became head coach in 2006, is a stunning 46-4 overall and 29-1 in WAC games. Petersen’s teams have never lost on the blue turf of Bronco Stadium (24-0).
The Broncos have won 54 consecutive regular season games at home since 2001. Their only loss at home during that time was to Boston College in the 2005 Humanitarian Bowl at Boise. Their last regular season loss at home was on Sept. 8, 2001 to Washington State, 42-20.
“This is a new year,” said Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made his first college start in a 2007 loss (69-67 in four overtimes) at Boise State. “The only game we’re thinking about is the one this year.”
Kaepernick, who has passed for 484 yards and rushed for 247 in two career games against Boise, welcomes the challenge of playing on Boise’s famed blue turf. The Pack, though, is just 2-14 at Boise in the all-time series with the only wins coming in 1986 and 1997. Ault is 1-6 as a head coach at Boise.
“I kind of like it when a lot of people are yelling at me,” said Kaepernick with a smile.
The Broncos feature sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore, who has thrown for 33 touchdowns and has been intercepted just three times. The Wolf Pack, though, intercepted Moore three times (two returned for touchdowns) at Mackay Stadium in a 41-34 loss to the Broncos last season.
Moore’s favorite targets are wide receivers Austin Pettis (62 catches for 850 yards and 14 touchdowns) and Titus Young (60 catches for 808 yards, nine touchdowns). Pettis has nine catches (two touchdowns) for 126 yards against the Pack a year ago.
“Those are the best receivers we’ve seen since Notre Dame,” said Ault of the Pack’s season-opening, 35-0 loss at South Bend on Sept. 5.
Ault, though, is more concerned about the Broncos’ defense. Both teams, after all, are among the top offenses in the nation. The Wolf Pack leads the country with 64 touchdowns and Boise State is second at 62. The Pack is second among FBS schools at 534.2 yards a game and Boise is ninth at 455.9.
It’s on defense, Ault said, where Boise separates itself. The Broncos are 15th in the nation in total defense, allowing 301.9 yards a game and 18th in points allowed (17.3 a game). The Pack is 84th in total defense (396.4 yards a game) and 69th in points allowed (25.6).
“The reason they are where they are is because of defense,” Ault said. “They’ve been good defensively on a consistent basis.”
Ault is well aware of what is at stake today.
“It is certainly one of the biggest games in school history,” he said. “I’d like to think a game like this is very important for the WAC. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, on national television, Boise is ranked (sixth in all major polls).
“This is a great opportunity for our program. But we’ve had great opportunities before. Somewhere along the line you have to take advantage of those opportunities.”