The dust has settled from last night's absurd affair in southwest Idaho. Boise State's players and personnel were able to sleep soundly last night in the knowledge that they had secured front-runner status early as the BCS Buster team to watch this season. The Broncos had proven several questions about themselves in their 19-8 victory over Oregon Thursday night:
- Their receiving corps are far better than we might've expected at the beginning of the season. In our preseason preview for Informative Sports, John Mitchell and I looked long and hard at this group of receivers and wondered long and hard how well they would perform. Jeremy Childs, Vinny Perretta and Julian Hawkins all were no longer there to provide Kellen Moore with familiar targets. But last night Austin Pettis (6 rec/68 yds/1 TD), Titus Young (5 rec/46 yds), and tight end Kyle Efaw (4 rec/54 yds) all stepped up and consistently burned an admittedly rebuilt Ducks secondary. The Broncos appear to have sufficiently replaced all their holes in the passing game from last season.
- The running game is just fine despite the graduation of campus legend Ian Johnson. The hero of the 2006 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma who is known as much for his rushing prowess as his on-field proposal to cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, Johnson had been relegated to a dual-back role with current starter Jeremy Avery and finished with less than a thousand yards for the first time since his freshman year. But he still graduated as the WAC's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 58, and his 4184 career rushing yards are less than three-hundred yards behind the school's career leader, CFL and NFL journeyman Cedric Minter, who racked up his 4475 career yards in Division I-AA. But Avery has gained valuable experience each of the past two seasons, gaining over 600 yards in both 2007 and 2008. Last night he got 27 carries and found 74 hard-fought yards. His partner in the revamped backfield, junior D.J. Harper, got 19 more touches and picked up 88 more yards for the offense.
- The defense, which plays in that quirky 4-2-5 scheme that is so prevalent in the non-BCS conferences as teams attempt to find ways to counter tha multitude of variations on the spread offense being played around the nation, is going to keep the Broncos in even the tightest of games. Even when the offense faltered, especially in the red zone, and coughed up the football three times, the defense never allowed Oregon to get comfortable on the Smurf Turf. The Ducks were held without a first down in the first half, a rarity for an offense which put up nearly 500 yards a game last season and boasted the second-ranked rushing attack in the nation. Jeremiah Masoli was never allowed to get comfortable in the pocket, tossing a pick and taking a sack and generally failing to be his explosive dual-threat self that led many to consider him a darkhorse Heisman hopeful in the preseason.
- The kicking game still needs work. Kyle Brotzman, the junior who has served as both kicker and punter for the past two seasons, still is not nearly as polished as Chris Peterson had hoped when he was recruited out of Meridian High School. He went 1-for-3 on field-goal attempts, missing from 29 and 47 from the left hashmark before connecting from 45 yards out with the ball dead center in the middle of the field to close out the first half. Peterson felt compelled to fake a field goal in the second half because of his ineptitude, and the team never attempted an extra point. Brotzman was vaunted as a freshman when he went 16-for-18 (with both his misses beyond 40 yards) and a perfect 66-for-66 on extra points. He regressed into a sophomore slump, hitting only 17-of-26 (making two successful attempts outside 50 yards but going only 8-for-13 from 30-39 yards out and 3-for-7 from 40-49). He remained perfect on extra points, 50-for-50, but was called upon less. It looks like his freshman year was more a case of beginner's luck than his sophomore year was just slumps or the jitters of heightened expectation. As a standout punter, Brotzman is still a valuable asset. He booted two of his three punts last night inside the 20, and had a 43.7 average to go right along with his career averages of the past two seasons. But Peterson might find it wise to begin recruiting kickers for next season...
But while all the evidence is right there to swoon over Boise State, there's nothing to celebrate for Oregon after all the preseason platitudes heaped upon them. All that will likely be remembered from this contest by the end of the season is the deplorable post-game behavior of Oregon's senior running back LeGarrette Blount. Before the game, Blount was vocal in his feelings of disgust toward Boise State. All throughout the game, though, the senior failed to produce the kind of performance that would allow him to walk the walk that his talk had insinuated. Rushing backward for five lost yards on eight carries, Blount had three memorable plays.
The first was a ten-yard rush on 3rd and 18 in the first quarter that would prove to be his longest carry of the game. The second was his successful carry for the two-point conversion after Jeremiah Masoli punched in the Ducks' only touchdown with 4:21 left in the third quarter. And the last, the most televised, the one that will be indelibly etched into the most casual of football fan's mind for posterity, was his post-game confrontation with Boise State defensive end Byron Hout. After Hout had come toward him on the field after the final whistle, he jawed something at the running back and then smacked him on his shoulder pads. Blount, in a split-second reaction, turned around and -- as a Boise State coach held Hout to discipline him for his actions -- coldcocked the defender with a right cross that felled the guy.
The ensuing debacle, with Blount rushing at the stands (where no phantom chair-wielding fan ever materialized in the videotape) and being literally hoisted off the field by security and policemen down the tunnel and out of the stadium, will be our last memories of the young man who showed so much promise last season with his own shared backfield role with Jeremiah Johnson. Each back went for over a thousand yards, Blount helping to soften the blow of losing Jonathan Stewart to the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. But in the offseason he allowed himself to get out of shape, undoubtedly a factor in his non-factor status for the Thursday night contest. He broke team rules blatantly and earned himself indefinite team suspension, only to be reinstated before preseason training sessions.
The suspension commences anew, and there is nothing indefinite about it. LeGarrette Blount has likely touched a football field of anything bigger than a Sunday-afternoon pickup game amongst friends for the last time in his life. The senior earned a year-long suspension, announced today by the University of Oregon, meaning that he'll never play another down of college ball. After being projected anywhere from the third to the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, he'd be lucky to find himself a spot in the CFL now (though Ricky Williams did keep getting his chances, eh?)
For the Ducks to move on, they must take solace in the few promising pieces they did discover. Their true freshman punter, Jackson Rice, is a more than able replacement for the graduated Josh Syria. In their backfield they still have Andre Crenshaw, a senior who has sufficient past experience in this offense over the past three years to perform... and then there's LaMichael James, the freshman from Texarkana who has been hyped as the next big-time back for Oregon and showed glimpses in his few touches last night of being able to deliver. He caught one ball in the flat for three yards, and got two carries -- one a five-yard carry on 2nd and 9 to start the game, the other a 17-yard burst which put Oregon inside the Boise State 5 and into position for their only points of the game. An increased role for James might mean that the Blount suspension is addition by subtraction for the Ducks offense.
But there's no sugar-coating things in Eugene. The Oregon offense has a long way to go to find itself. Masoli never looked comfortable in the pocket or on the run, and it looks as though he is not yet sharp. He will have to get his head fully into the game quickly for the Ducks to have a chance at rebounding next week against a Purdue team that will be motivated themselves by revenge fantasies after Oregon came into West Lafayette last season and knocked off the Boilermakers in a stirring 17-point comeback culminating with a plunge over the goal line in the second overtime by... LeGarrette Blount.
Chip Kelly must quickly find his swagger again. The Ducks must flock together and find their dormant potential after a lethargic summer of overconfidence and a heaping helping of flowery short-sighted praise. If they are going to be on any sort of form to compete on a BCS level, to fight for the Pac-10 -- to be anywhere in the neighborhood of last evening's vanquisher, the non-BCS squad that plays as though they are more deserving of a BCS slot than many BCS teams -- they will need to take stock and regroup quickly. In the aftermath of last night's wild turn of events, two schools appear headed on two wildly divergent paths...