In the first quarter Boise State looked like a team that didn’t have a lot of interest playing in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. Turnovers, dropped passes and an overall sense of being uninspired out of the gate put the Broncos in a 3-0 hole early against Utah. The offense sputtered in the first quarter but broke out behind Doug Martin and Kellen Moore and the defense played outstanding football from start to finish to secure a 26-3 win over the Utes Wednesday night.
Senior wide receiver Austin Pettis had a big night in his final game, catching 12 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown and nearly had a second touchdown before fumbling at the 2 yard line in the 3rd quarter, one of a few questionable calls in the game. Doug Martin, a junior from Stockton, CA, was the difference maker though. His 84 yard touchdown run, in which he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and then jetted up the sideline, turned the momentum in Boise State’s favor and they never gave it back. They scored 26 unanswered points as the Utes struggled badly on offense all night long, with much credit given to the Bronco defense.
Boise State’s early turnovers put the defense in bad field position consistently in the first quarter but the Broncos kept the Utes out of the end zone all night in one of their best performances of the season. They held Utah to 200 yards and only 8 first downs on the game, securing 3 turnovers and holding the Utes to 2-13 on 3rd down conversions. They were helped by several dropped passes and penalties as Utah seemed to find ways to shoot themselves in the foot every chance they had.
Utah finished with 10 penalties for 83 yards but several of them overturned big plays including a nice touchdown throw by senior Terrance Cain late in the 3rd quarter. The Utes biggest playmaker, senior receiver/returner Shaky Smithson was held in check on special teams and had several dropped passes on potential long gainers. Cain finished 10-24 for only 93 yards despite making several nice throws, especially in the 2nd half. His receivers consistently let him down and offensive penalties negated 30, 31 and 44 yard pass plays.
The Utes’ struggles on offense were due in part to an aggressive Boise State defense that put pressure on Cain all night and forced 3 fumbles at critical points in the game. The Bronco defensive line seemed nearly unblockable as they had four sacks and contributed to a total of nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Utah was consistently in long yardage situations on 2nd and 3rd downs, making it tough to convert. Coach Chris Petersen summed it up nicely when he said, “There’s no question the game ball goes to our defense.”
Yet the Bronco offense showed plenty of explosion as well, unfortunately with some implosion mixed in. The Broncos racked up 543 yards of offense with Doug Martin’s 147 yards a part of a 202 yard rushing effort. Moore passed for 339 yards and completed 28 of 38 passes with two touchdowns despite being victimized by four drops, including two in the end zone in the 2nd half. Moore was also sacked on the opening drive, and fumbled, setting Utah up with great field position. He later threw an interception in the 1st quarter and had a bad center exchange with Thomas Byrd that Martin was able to recover.
The miscues did not just come from the offense, however. The Pac-10 officiating crew had two critical calls go against Boise State, negating touchdowns in both cases. On the first, Moore floated a pass to the corner of the end zone that senior receiver Titus Young hauled in and appeared to barely keep his right foot in bounds. They officials on the field ruled him out and despite a review that showed he had narrowly kept his foot in, the call was upheld in replay. Senior kicker Kyle Brotzman then came on to calmly hit a 29 yard field goal, breaking the NCAA record for career points by a kicker.
In the 3rd quarter, Moore hit Pettis with a long pass down the middle and Pettis raced through traffic to the end zone before Utah’s Brian Blechen stripped the ball from behind and it rolled toward the back of the end zone. Freshman receiver Geraldo Hiwat alertly dove on the ball, very similarly to Titus Young’s touchdown saving play against Fresno State in 2009, and appeared to have control of the ball before rolling out of bounds. Two officials came together, meaning neither of them had a clear view, to determine that Hiwat was out of bounds which resulted in a touchback for Utah. Replay again upheld the call and the questionable reputation of the Pac-10 replay officials appeared to be justified once more.
The game never appeared to be in doubt following Martin’s touchdown as Brotzman’s field goal and a Moore touchdown pass to junior receiver Tyler Shoemaker staked the Broncos to a 16-3 halftime lead. You get the sense, however, that the team was unsatisfied with their offensive performance in spite of the yardage. Yet the defense answered the bell when it mattered the most and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham summed it up best after the game when he said, “when you play a team the caliber of Boise State you have to play better than we did tonight.”
The combination of stellar Bronco defense and ugly Utah offense added up to a win on Wednesday that was much more one-sided than the final score indicated. If not for the four turnovers and dropped passes, Boise State likely could have posted over 50 points on a pretty good Utah defense. It is a testament to how complete a team Boise State has become that they can still dominate a team in spite of their slow start and mistakes. The Broncos proved once again that even without an unblemished record, and with a lack of respect from the BCS institution, they were one of the best teams in the country this season and they are one of the best programs in college football this decade.