By Stewart Mandel
September 04, 2009

BOISE, Idaho -- It was supposed to be an exciting prime-time shootout that would get college football fans' blood pumping for the start of the season. It devolved into an ugly slopfest with an even uglier aftermath.

By the end of No. 14 Boise State's 19-8 win over No. 16 Oregon Thursday night (BOX | RECAP), it was hard to tell whether we'd just watched the Broncos validate their BCS-worthiness by dominating a ranked opponent or struggle to put away a suddenly rank Oregon team. The only thing we know for certain about the Ducks is that new coach Chip Kelly could not have endured a more nightmarish debut.

Oregon was supposed to provide Boise its big BCS-conference litmus test. Instead, the Ducks waddled off the blue turf of Bronco Stadium looking a lot like all those overmatched WAC foes that fall flat here every year.

Oregon's star running back LeGarrette Blount made a far more eventful exit. As the teams left the field, Blount cold-cocked Boise State defensive lineman Byron Hout in the face right in front of Broncos coach Chris Petersen; hit one of his own players; and scuffled with multiple Boise State fans on his way out of the tunnel. Security personnel had to forcibly drag him into the locker room.

Blount had told Sports Illustrated this summer that the Ducks "owe [Boise] an ass-whupping" in return for last year's loss to the Broncos in Eugene. Presumably, Hout reminded him in some unkind way that he'd failed to back up his words. Even so, Blount's response was deplorable.

"I was kind of not surprised," Boise safety George Iloka said of Blount's outburst. "They had been talking [trash]. I think he was just mad, frustrated. I was thinking that something was about to escalate."

You know your team's had a rough night when it goes the entire first half without gaining a first down -- and that doesn't even wind up the night's biggest embarrassment.

"Obviously we're not very proud of (Blount's punch)," Oregon's Mike Bellotti -- in his first game wearing the athletic director's hat -- told reporters afterward. "It's not something to be condoned and we'll take steps to correct it."

Blount attended a postgame news conference afterward and apologized to every party he could name, but it's safe to say he won't be returning to a playing field anytime soon -- just like it's safe to say both his and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's Heisman hopes ended here Thursday before they could even get started.

"We've had Oregon circled on our map for a while," said Boise defensive tackle Billy Winn, who stuffed Blount in the end zone for a safety late in the first half. "We're really glad we had this opportunity to play them again and show them [last year's 37-32 win in Eugene] wasn't a fluke."

Before Blount assured his infamy on every SportsCenter for the rest of the weekend, the undisputed story of Thursday's game was the utter dominance of Boise's defense. The same Oregon offense that averaged 485 yards a game last year managed just 152. Despite the Broncos' best efforts to let Oregon back in the game -- after going up 19-0 early in the third quarter, Boise lost three fumbles and botched a fake fake-field goal -- the Ducks could manage only a lone touchdown and two-point conversion.

In a highly representative play, the Ducks, down 19-8, drove to the Boise State 19-yard line early in the fourth quarter, but on fourth and 1, Blount --- he of the 7.3-yards per carry average last season --- was met head-on behind the line of scrimmage by two Broncos defenders.

"We all know that Oregon's got some explosive players," said Petersen. "To hold that offense to eight points --- that's nice. Your defense needs to rescue you early in the season until your offense gets into shape."

Indeed, before the Broncos can start dreaming about January in Pasadena or Glendale, they'll need to address a litany of mistakes that tainted what should have been a statement victory.

At one point in Thursday's first half, the Broncos fumbled on three straight plays. Kicker Kyle Brotzman, who spent much of the offseason working to improve his kicks from the left hash-mark, missed consecutive field-goal attempts ... from the left hash-mark.

The Broncos finished with 361 total yards but gained just 79 on their last seven possessions. Six times they drove into Oregon territory but failed to score, with Boise QB Kellen Moore -- so sharp in the first half (he started 9-of-10 for 96 yards) --- personally losing two fumbles.

"We were always this close to doing what we wanted to do and just couldn't get it done," said Petersen, who called the Broncos "a work in progress." "Hopefully that will be extra motivation for us."

Boise may be looking for any motivational sources it can find after Blount hand-delivered them such ripe material for the opener. With a cannon-armed quarterback, the dynamic running tandem of Jeremy Avery and D.J. Harper (who combined for 162 yards on 46 carries) and a swarming defense, the Broncos will likely be prohibitive favorites in every game they play from here, putting them in prime position to be this year's Utah.

However, because their conference is so lowly regarded, Boise won't go without scrutiny from the voters. A turnover-marred opener against a Pac-10 team is one thing; a similar display against Miami of Ohio next week won't be viewed quite so favorably.

"In some ways [the buildup to Thursday's game] will help them because there have been so many distractions for a long time and they did a great job of blocking it out," said Petersen. "The bullseye will continue to grow."

Hopefully there will be fewer black eyes in future contests.

You May Like