It's no secret that the unnatural break between a team's regular-season finale and its bowl game can affect its performance -- and it's not just the ones playing Jan. 10. Due to finals, Boise State squeezed in just six full practices between its Dec. 4 game against Utah State and Wednesday night's Maaco Bowl against Utah. Coach Chris Petersen and quarterback Kellen Moore missed two of them while attending Heisman festivities in New York.
Therefore it wasn't surprising to see Moore and the Broncos come out flat against the Utes. They were shut out in the first quarter for the first time since Oct. 3, 2009. They committed four turnovers. They dropped passes. They had a field goal blocked. And yet they still throttled the 20th-ranked Utes much the same way they did so many hapless foes this season, 26-3.
Running back Doug Martin broke an 84-yard touchdown run. Moore eventually heated up, finishing 28-of-38 for 319 yards and two touchdowns. And that Boise defensive front, so dominant but for one ultra-costly second half at Nevada, harassed Utah quarterback Terrence Cain, the Utes' fill-in for injured starter Jordan Wynn. In outgaining the Utes 543 to 198, the Broncos sent off standout senior receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young and hard-luck kicker Kyle Brotzman (who became the NCAA's all-time leading scorer among kickers on a second-quarter field goal) with their 38th win over the past three seasons.
Obviously, December in Las Vegas is not where most Broncos fans imagined this season ending back when Moore threw the game-winning touchdown against Virginia Tech on Labor Day weekend. The dream was Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz., or, at worst, New Year's in Pasadena. Rarely has a fan base experienced a more disappointing 12-1 season.
But as consolation prizes go, there are worse things than beating up on one of the sport's fellow BCS busters (one that will soon be stealing its thunder and moving up to the big leagues) and ending the Utes' nine-game bowl winning streak. And they did it behind so many of the cogs from this 2008-10 run. In an ultimately trivial but somewhat fitting moment on a third-and-goal early in the fourth quarter, Pettis took a reverse from Moore and scrambled toward the sideline, looking to throw his third touchdown of the year. Instead, his pass was deflected into the air by Utah's Brandon Burton -- but Pettis leapt into the air and caught his own pass for a 2-yard game. Another fun moment from one of the sport's most fun teams to watch.
Meanwhile, Utah completed its second straight 10-3 season, but this one ended on a considerable downer. After starting the season 8-0, the Utes suffered blowout losses to the three most high-profile foes on their schedule, TCU (47-7), Notre Dame (28-3) and Boise (26-3). They'll enter their first season in the Pac-12 next year with the talent to be competitive (a healthy Wynn will return for his junior year) but considerable issues to fix on offense. Utah scored 17 points or less in four of its last five games.
Boise, much to the chagrin of its considerable detractors, will be right back in the BCS picture next year, though this time not likely on the short list of national title contenders. The Broncos won't be returning 20 starters like this year, but they'll bring back an awful lot, most notably Moore (who is 38-2 as a starter), Martin and most of the contributors from that stacked defensive line.
Once again, they'll get a chance to "prove themselves" opening weekend in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff against Georgia. For one year at least, the Broncos and TCU will settle things on the field as Mountain West members. The faces will change, but there should be plenty more halfback passes and fake punts to come.