A week ago, in my “50 Reasons To Be Excited About College Football Season,” I wrote the following:
“Boise State-Virginia Tech On Labor Day: I haven’t been this excited about anything since my first strip club visit back in ’04.”
Well here we are today, just a few hours after the completion of the first mega-showdown of the college football season, and I can honestly say that my original hypothesis was a bogus one: Virginia Tech-Boise State blew my first trip to the Gentleman’s Club out of the water. It wasn’t even close.
Monday night’s game had everything: Hard-hitting. Big plays at key moments. Drama that would make an episode of the Real World look like Sesame Street by comparison. It was the perfect ending to an awesome opening weekend of college football. And the best part was, I didn’t have to pay a $10 cover charge, or order two drinks to enjoy it.
But just as soon as the excitement of the game ended, a new frenzy began: The race to demean Boise’s win. Or at the very least, put it into its proper “context.”
You all know the arguments, they’re the same ones we’ve been hearing for years now. Mainly that “Nobody would be making a big deal about this win if it wasn’t Boise State,” and “Those guys would never go undefeated in the SEC.”
So with that, let’s try to put everything into its proper perspective. Was this one game a season defining win for Boise? Or just one of the 12 that they need to even be considered for the National Championship discussion? More importantly, what does this particular 60 minutes of Boise State Broncos football mean for the rest of the country?
Even before the start, we all knew this was a big one. For Boise State, it was once again about beating the big name on the bigger stage, this time, with the opportunity to put themselves in position for a season long title run. For Virginia Tech, it was about protecting their home turf, putting their previous early season woes behind them, and keeping the little guy in their place. They weren’t just playing for themselves, but instead every big-time program in the country.
And you could feel it in the air. I’d say that this one had the intensity of a BCS National Championship Game before kickoff, but really that’d be an unfair analogy. BCS National Championship Games are played on neutral fields, with a relatively even ticket distribution. This one was played in Landover, MD, a little over 200 miles from the Virginia Tech campus, and a little over 2,800 miles from Boise’s campus. FedEx Field was about as neutral as Bill O’Reilly’s stance on Barack Obama. Really the vibe was more that of an NFL playoff game, mixed with the noise level of a rock concert, and the sense of urgency of a World Series Game 7. That’s what Boise State walked into, and truthfully it was hard to imagine them not being nervous. If only, because I personally was nervous sitting on the couch.
From the start though, you could tell this wasn’t Boise’s first rodeo (Ok, awful analogy. My bad). They came out calm and poised, and looked like the veteran team early. The crowd did little to faze them, and if anything, Virginia Tech looked like the team playing in front of 80,000 of someone else’s fans. They fumbled the second snap of the game, and spent the rest of the first quarter shooting themselves in the foot with bad penalties and special teams miscues. Tech repeatedly gave Boise good field position, which the Broncos turned into quick points, just like any veteran, championship-level team should do. And before any of us could sneak off for a quick bathroom break, it was already 17-0 Boise.
Like a lot of people who picked Boise to win Monday night, I sat on my couch after the first quarter a little too confident. In retropsect, Boise had 17 points without putting a real drive together, and once Tech got settled in, the Hokies proved to be fine. More than fine really.
Early on in the second quarter, Tech battled back, with Tyrod Taylor establishing himself as the best player on the field. Boise may have been prepared for the power running game, but they had no answer for Taylor. He gashed their defense for long runs. He hit his receivers on perfectly timed patterns. And just when Boise thought they had him figured out, he faked the run, stopped at the line of scrimmage, and hit Ryan Williams with a perfect pass, for Virginia Tech’s second touchdown of the quarter. Just like that, it was the Hokies that went into halftime with the momentum, and a very manageable 20-14 deficit.
With the start of the third quarter, little changed. All of a sudden it was Boise State committing dumb penalties. The line (which had been great early), couldn’t protect Kellen Moore. It seemed like every possession was second or third and long before the Broncos even knew what hit them. And if it wasn’t for a semi-fluky D.J. Harper 71 yard run (where Virginia Tech brought everyone but Bud Foster’s grandma on the blitz), Boise would have gone into the final minutes of the game without a single second half point. The Hokies were controlling the game, and had the ball with a four lead and under six minutes to go. That’s where it got interesting.
Like they should have done, Virginia Tech pounded the ball right at Boise. The Hokies were the bigger team along the front line, and they needed to control trenches. As I said in my Sunday weekend recap, to me, a championship team is one that can run the ball at the end of games, when the other defense knows it’s coming. Which is exactly what the Hokies did. Williams ran for four yards. Then another five. Then another four for a first down. Taylor hit Jarrett Boykin for another first down. Meanwhile, the clock continued to tick… Virginia Tech was cruising, and before anyone noticed, we were under two minutes to play. Boise had just two timeouts remaining.
Smartly, Virginia Tech stuck with the running game, and picked up another four yards on the next play. Timeout Boise. But then, for reasons that I’ve yet to see explained, the Hokies got goofy, started to out-think themselves, and took their foot off the gas.
On second down, Taylor took a snap, and rather than risking a botched handoff, the quarterback who’d been great all night, ran to the middle of the field, and fell right down, like an old dog on a hot summer day. Personally, I had no beef with the play. No need to risk an unnecessary turnover. It also forced Boise to use their last timeout.
But then, on third down, rather than doing the same, and running another half minute off the clock, Virginia Tech instead decided… to throw the ball?
I mean, I guess even with hind-sight on my side, I understand the logic:
Behind Door 1 is this: If you complete the pass and pick up a first down, the game is over. Period. Boise is out of timeouts, they can’t stop the clock, and you’re two knees from getting the W. Ok.
Behind Door 2: Is a much riskier proposition. If you don’t complete the pass, you’re forced to punt, and Boise gets the ball back with reasonable field position. More importantly, all of a sudden they’ve got an extra 30 seconds in their back pocket.
Well, try as he migh, Frank Beamer couldn’t get Door No. 1 open, and instead was stuck with the dud gift bag behind No. 2. And it came back to bite him, because as soon as they got the ball back, Boise went to work. Actually, let me re-phrase that: Kellen Moore went to work.
Now if you’re not a Boise fan, I get why you might not be crazy about Moore’s game. He isn’t overly athletic. He doesn’t have a big arm, to the point that I bet there were a lot of 25-year-old guys sitting on their couches Monday night wondering if they could out-throw him. He isn’t fast and doesn’t have quick feet. Basically, Moore doesn’t have the ‘look,’ of a big-time quarterback. If you saw him at a bar, you wouldn’t even fear him stealing your girlfriend, like you might if Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley or Tim Tebow walked in (although I’d be a little more at ease if Tebow stole her from me, if only because I know he’d get her back to me safe and unharmed at a reasonable hour).
Moore isn’t any of the things that we think a quarterback is supposed to be. What he is, is smarter than you or me, and a winner. Point blank. And as we’ve seen a million times in the college game, it’s better to have a guy with those attributes than one with just a big arm or quick legs. Ken Dorsey’s, Matt Flynn’s and Greg McElroy’s win championships more often than JaMarcus Russell’s and Matthew Stafford’s do.
And here’s the most underrated part of Moore’s play Monday night: He clearly wasn’t comfortable in the pocket. He faced the best pass rush he’s ever seen, and was forced to make quicker decisions than he ever has. But he never made the one mistake that killed Boise and finished their night. He avoided losing yards on sacks, and didn’t throw a pick. It was only because of Moore’s play the rest of the night which allowed for the great final drive. What a drive it was.
Moore hit a quick 11-yard out on the first play. Out of bounds and a first down. Then another quick five yards. Then he found his man Austin Pettis for another 14 yards. And when a personal foul on Virginia Tech (and a very questionable one at that) gave Boise half the distance to the goal. All of a sudden, it sure looked like Boise would actually score.
Which is exactly what happened two plays later, when Moore found a streaking Austin Pettis over the middle, and lobbed a perfectly placed ball over the safety…and… into Pettis’ big paws…which he wrapped tightly around the football…and…TOUCHDOWN! Five plays. 58 yards. Quintessential Boise.
Of course, by scoring as quickly as they did, Boise almost did themselves a disservice, and left too much time on the clock for Taylor and the Hokies. If that makes sense.
On this day though, it didn’t matter. It was just Boise’s night.
Taylor started off the drive, by throwing a deep ball right on the hands of Dyrell Roberts streaking down the field. It was the best pass Taylor made all night, but unfortunately, it also came on the best defensive play of the night, when Boise cornerback Brandyn Thompson came out of nowhere, and stuck his left hand in the perfect spot at the perfect time, deflecting the ball toward the ground. Incomplete. Next, the Boise pass rush- which had given Virginia Tech problems all night- sacked Taylor for a loss. Another incomplete pass set up fourth down, and what might end up being the biggest play for either team this season.
On it, Taylor took the snap. He dropped back. Surveyed the field. Saw Boykin streaking down the left sideline. Threw it….
The ball hung in the air like a scene from a bad football movie…And…Incomplete!
Just like that, it was all but over. A mere few minutes after trailing, and slowly seeing their season disappear like dessert at Rex Ryan’s house, there was Boise back on the field, putting the finishing touches on another win. Moore took the field, took a knee, and the clock struck zero. The Boise players mobbed each other, like a bunch of oversized, heavily padded Little League World Series champions, while the thousands of fans who made the 2,800 mile trip serrenaded the stadium with chants of “Boy-zee State! Boy-zee State.”
Again, for any neutral fan, it was the perfect ending, to what was just about a perfect weekend of college football. And with it, a whole new debate began.
Obviously, we all know what was at stake last night. If they’d lost that game, the Broncos season was all but over. Not literally, but the writing on the wall was pretty clear: 12-0 is the only way this team is playing for a title. Sure 11-1 might be nice at some places, but at Boise State in 2010, it would go down as the most unfulfilling and hollow 11-1 campaign in college football history.
Instead, they’re 1-0 with 11 games to play, yet are already to closer to playing for a National Championship than an 11-1 record in December would have provided them.
From this point we all know the truth, it’s not only about winning games, but winning them big. Boise State can’t come out flat against San Jose State, Toledo and Wyoming. They can’t have off night’s. They can’t just win, they’ve got to look good doing it. Sadly, the haters are going to hate, and the last thing they need is more ammunition. Facts be damned.
With that, get ready to spend the next few months hearing that Boise State would never finish 12-0 in the SEC or some other major conferences. As we know, the purists will spout that line like an automated voice message every chance they get.
Except, at the same time, let me ask you this: Who exactly from outside that conference would walk into the SEC and go undefeated? Ohio State? History says otherwise. USC? Not the way they played Thursday. Texas? I can’t see them going on the road four times with a freshman quarterback and coming out unscathed. Iowa, Oregon or Miami? It certainly wouldn’t be easy.
Also, let’s flip it around: How many SEC teams would go undefeated with Boise’s schedule? Two? Maybe three?
Now, before you jump down my throat, be very careful. I’m not saying that they couldn’t go 9-3, 10-2, or win the WAC. Because all 12 SEC teams might be able to do that. But how many could’ve gone to Landover Monday night and gotten the win that Boise did over Virginia Tech? I’ll give you Alabama, but beyond that, who’ve you got? Florida? Did you watch them play last weekend? LSU, Auburn and Arkansas weren’t much better. Georgia certainly might have made things interesting, but with a freshman quarterback in that environment, I’d still take the Hokies.
So yes, Boise doesn’t play the hardest schedule in the country, but remember, you can only schedule the teams that are actually willing to play you. And I don’t see many teams lining up to take on the Broncos.
If you want to argue the merits of Boise’s schedule fine. But after last night it’s hard to argue the merits of their talent. This team has got football players. Lots of them.
Both lines are big and nasty. Austin Pettis could play receiver at any college in the country. Titus Young isn’t so bad himself. Doug Martin picked up yards virtually every time he was called on in a big spot. D.J. Harper ran away from the entire Virginia Tech defense on his touchdown (he did it on a surgically repaired knee I might add). And Moore is just a straight up winner. This team might not beat every single team in the country on a neutral field. But there isn’t one they’d get dominated by either.
In the end, if Boise State goes undefeated, I see no reason why they shouldn’t be playing for a BCS title next January. The only case that could be made is if two BCS conference teams- say Alabama and Ohio State- finish undefeated. But there’s a lot of football to play between now and then. Even for Boise, there are definitely a handful of teams left on their schedule that they will still lose to if they don’t show up to play. Oregon State in particular should terrify them.
But when it came to opening night, the blue and orange express passed their first big test with flying colors. They weren’t always perfect, but were better when it mattered most: With all zeros left on the clock.
They took on Virginia Tech Monday night and not only held their own, but got the win.
Now it’s time to take on the rest of the college football world.
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