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Boise State beats Fresno State 51-34 in WAC shootout

The Broncos and Bulldogs combined for big plays galore, but it was Boise State who came up with the biggest. A 67-yard Jeremy Avery TD catch sealed it, and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Titus Young proved to be huge.

Talk about your feelings on the game and what you think went right and wrong for BSU. (Updated: 11:34pm 9/18)

What. Was. That?!

I thought Boise State was good on defense. I thought Fresno State rolled over in big games against conference opponents. I thought there was some sort of cap on 60-yard TD runs.

What a wild, crazy, stressful, disappointing, electrifying, nerve-wracking, awesome, amazing game to watch. This one could have Bronco fans talking for weeks. I can't wait to hear what everyone has to say about this. Here are some of my initial impressions.

It's Titus Young's world and we're just kicking off to it

Titus Young surprised me tonight by doing something I have yet to seen him really do: impact a game without big receiving stats. Young finished the game with three catches for 29 yards and a seven-yard score in the second quarter. But that wasn't the story.

Didn't he look great returning kickoffs? His 77-yard return after Fresno kicked a second quarter field goal set up the Broncos in great position to take the three-TD lead. And his kickoff return TD to start the second half was incredible, too (a dubious holding penalty on Chuck Hayes negated it, but since when is falling on a guy considered holding?).

And then there was the hustle play to recovery Avery's fumble in the end zone. How huge was that? I wonder if it would have been a play that Young made last year. His maturity really impressed me tonight, especially on that TD recovery, but also on the way that he carried himself and didn't get caught up in the trash talking and emotion.

Young was very impressive.

(Note: Shhh, I know he fumbled in the first quarter. Let's not talk about that right now.)

What is D.J. Harper's status?

Harper went down awkwardly in the third quarter after a big hit down near the Fresno goalline. BSU players were cramping all night, but this was no cramp from Harper. It looked serious, like a knee injury, and he did not return the rest of the game.

Interesting enough, prior to Harper's injury, Jeremy Avery seemed to be the Broncos' less effective back. Harper had come in and looked very impressive, racking up 107 yards on 12 carries and a 60-yard TD. Would we have seen very much of Avery again this game? It's hard to tell.

More importantly, though, what is the final word on Harper? The Broncos are not deep enough at running back to absorb a loss like Harper's, at least not without getting creative. If he misses an extended period of time, will it produce a need for Doug Martin to head back into the backfield?

D.J. who? Jeremy Avery does not like the comparisons to Ian Johnson, thankyouverymuch

Just when the Broncos' running back position seemed sunk, Avery responded with two absolutely huge plays. First, his 67-yard screen pass TD was the right call at the right time, as it caught the Fresno defense out of position and put Avery in a position to put his speed to use. Then, on the next Bronco possession, he broke a 69-yard gainer down to the Fresno 15, leading to the game-icing field goal. Two huge plays after Harper left the game.

Avery's final stats of the night: 11 carries, 186 yards, 16.9 average; 5 catches, 83 yards, 1 TD. Funny enough, it seemed like more.

Billy Winn asserts himself as the best defensive lineman in the WAC, possibly the West

You can't block Billy Winn, you can only hope to run as far away from him as possible. Fresno State learned this the hard way, as Winn repeatedly blew up plays in the backfield and harrassed QB Ryan Colburn.

Tonight, more so than the previous two games and even all of fall camp, Billy Winn was clearly the Broncos' best defensive lineman. It wasn't even close. Winterswyk wasn't better. Baker wasn't better. It was Winn by a landslide. His combination of size, strength, and agility makes him a difficult assignment for a single offensive lineman. Fresno had to double him to hope to get any traction at the line of scrimmage. Best of all, Winn makes the players around him better, too. Many players on the line had some good plays, but it was Winn who showed up most often and made the biggest impact.

Offensive line, circa 2008

The Broncos pulled the first O-line switch of the season before the game with Garrett Pendergast replacing Michael Ames at right tackle. But that didn't really fix anything, now, did it?

Matt Slater was absolutely abused by Chris Carter in the first half. The push by the Fresno defensive line was solid for the majority of the game. Kellen Moore never looked comfortable in the pocket. The offense was sputtering in large part due to the offensive line.

Fortunately, things improved in the second half. The play of Nate Potter, in place of Slater, helped, and Bryan Harsin mixed up the playcalling enough to buy Moore some time outside the pocket and neutralize Fresno's aggressive defense with misdirection and timing plays. The Bronco offense never looked comfortable tonight, except when it was breaking off big runs. Huge, gaping holes were the exception, not the norm. Credit Fresno's defense for owning the line of scrimmage.

Who is Boise State's quarterback, and what has he done with Kellen Moore?

Obviously, the line was not at its best, but neither was Moore. Throwing off his back foot? Who does he think he is? Tom Brandstater? Moore's performance was very un-Moore-like, even though he finished the game 18-for-26 for three TDs. Numbers never lie, but these ones are exaggerating just a little. Most of Moore's completions were screens, flares, or short passes - high percentage throws, basically. His deep passes? Let's not even go there. That is a conversation for a different 1,000-word blog post.

Am I alone in thinking Moore didn't look like himself? I wonder how much of Moore's greatness is due to his having time to operate. Fresno's defense did a good job keeping him from typical Moore perfection. In a sense, it was fitting, seeing that the game included a tribute to the late Dan Brown.

Winston Venable makes a case for never coming off the field

I need more Winston Venable in my life. Boise State's nickelbacker made perhaps the defense's two biggest plays of the night: the opening drive pick-six, and the penultimate drive QB hit on fourth down.

Let's talk about that QB hit, shall we? My heart nearly leaped out of my chest when I saw it live, and then every subsequent replay, I beamed a little brighter. Seeing Venable go airborne to take down Ryan Colburn was awesome. It was inspiring. I could watch it a million times and never even notice Joe Tessitore ruining it by talking.

(Note: This is the point in my babbling that Fresno fans complain it should have been a spearing penalty.)

One thousand fist pumps to you, Winston Venable.

Now onto the matter of Venable's playing time. Did it not seem to anyone else like Venable was absent for large stretches of the game, including Fresno State's three long TD runs? I know that the Broncos rotate nickelbackers regularly, but wouldn't you agree that Venable's performance tonight placed him in an echelon along with Kyle Wilson, Jeron Johnson, and others? Substituting is fine and all, but that kid can play. He should stay on the field in games like this.

The Jeron Johnson three-ring tackling circus

To quote myself from earlier in this post, "What. Was That?!" Johnson whiffed on two, if not all three of Ryan Mathews' long TD runs. What's worse is that he was the last man in on all three plays, so his missed tackle sent Mathews off to the races.

You'll notice that each time Mathews broke free, it was to the short side of the field (Johnson's side) and there was no one around beyond five yards past the line of scrimmage. Johnson had to make the tackles on those plays and he just plain didn't.

While we're on the topic of missed assignments, what is everyone's take on Jason Robinson? He was on the field for a couple of Fresno's big plays, which tells me that coaches think highly enough of him to give him good playing time. I didn't see anything from Robinson that made me think he deserved it. In fact, juding from the personnel on the field, it appeared that Robinson was taking time at one of the safety positions, instead of his normal nickelbacker role, and it seemed like he was taking the place of Iloka.

Fact: The Boise State defense looked tons better with Iloka on the field. He is quicker to the ball and makes solid tackles. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with Robinson or not, but I thought I'd point it out.

Kyle Brotzman is not on the field for the biggest kick of the game

Guess who got all the fourth quarter kicking duties? "Mr. Clutch" Jimmy Pavel. Brotzman did not see the field in the fourth quarter, leaving Pavel in charge of kickoffs and field goals. And boy, did he have a big field goal.

It was the final points of the game, and it was a relative gimme, but it was still huge. Pavel's 24-yard field goal gave the Broncos a three-score lead with under four minutes left (not that many of the Fresno fans saw it; they were headed to the parking lot a couple minutes before). Miss it, and Fresno has hope. Make it, and the game is out of reach.

Where was Brotzman? Injured, ineffective, or something else? Pavel did his job well when he was in there, including a big hit on kickoff coverage. This will be something to watch this week.

Curious play-calling from Fresno State sure helps

During the heat of the scoring, Fresno State drove down to the Bronco 10-yard line, trailing 34-24 with five minutes left in the third. And what did the Bulldogs do? Incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, field goal. Thank you, Pat Hill.

In the fourth, with the Bulldogs driving and trailing 48-34 with seven minutes left, Fresno had the ball on Boise State's 26-yard line with a 1st and 10 and proceeded to gain two yards on their next four plays, resulting in a turnover on downs. Ryan Mathews touched the ball zero times.

Those two series were huge, and none of them involved Ryan Mathews running the ball. Have fun answering those questions in the press conference, Pat Hill.

Random Thoughts

  • If I never see another flare pass to Mitch Burroughs, it will be too soon.
  • Do you think Kellen Moore saw Ryan Colburn's Hail Mary long passes working and thought he'd try the same?
  • What's your take on Colburn? I didn't see him throw a good pass all night. He threw plenty of completions, but none of them were accurate or in stride. None. Not a single one. It is a miracle he didn't have more than two INTs.
  • What will this do to Boise State in the polls? I'm not even going there yet.
  • Fresno was scary pumped there for awhile. I thought we were going to have college football's first krunk dance off after a second quarter Boise State three-and-out.
  • That Austin Pettis can block. Oh, and he can catch, too.
  • Congratulations, Ryan Mathews. You've just entered a common-law marriage with Graham Watson, whether you wanted to or not.
  • What's this Chick-fil-a I keep hearing so much about?
  • Jeremy Avery: plays of 74, 67, and 69 yards. Ryan Mathews: plays of 60, 69, and 68. Fortunately, Avery's supporting cast was better tonight.
  • Great showing by Fresno State. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They gave the Broncos more of a fight than many Boise State fans expected, and my hat is off to them.
  • No 3-3-5 until late in the fourth quarter? Then why did I waste so many words on it last week?
  • Angry Coach Pete is back.

Share your thoughts in the comments.