Time to stop doubting Boise State

Tuesday January 5th, 2010

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With all due respect, Kyle Wilson thinks we're all just a little nuts.

"Everyone counted us out," Boise State's star senior defensive back said after his team's 17-10 Fiesta Bowl upset of third-ranked TCU here Monday. "I don't know why they keep doing that."

Good question.

You'd think we'd learned our lesson the last time these guys came here, when they refused to be rolled over by Adrian Peterson and the Sooner Schooner. This time, the Horned Frogs were supposed to unleash their ultra-stingy defense on Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore and state their case as this season's jilted BCS Championship aspirant.

But lo and behold, No. 6 Boise plays some serious defense, too. You'd think we might remember that, considering the Broncos opened their season four months earlier by completely stifling eventual Pac-10 champion Oregon. For those of us that did not, Wilson and Co. served up a friendly reminder, holding the nation's No. 5 rushing offense to 36 yards; picking off the nation's No. 4 passer, Andy Dalton, three times (and twice in the game's final 5:37), thwarting potential game-tying TCU drives inside the Boise State 30.

And, oh yeah, the Broncos pulled off a fake punt on fourth and 9 from their own 33-yard-line to set up their go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. Not that anyone should have forgotten, but they do that sort of thing, too.

"That's what people expect of us," said the Desert Daredevil himself, Boise State coach Chris Petersen. "We're happy to deliver if it gives us one more point than the other guys."

For three quarters, Boise and TCU delivered a tight, but largely unmemorable clash of BCS busters. Neither team's offense could get anything going. Boise State's lone touchdown had come on a 51-yard Brandyn Thompson first-quarter interception. Dalton had thrown a 30-yard touchdown to receiver Curtis Clay just before halftime but otherwise completed 17 passes for 134 yards.

"It was just a freaking slugfest," said Broncos defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- though not a particularly entertaining one just yet. But then, with the score tied 10-10 heading into the latter part of the fourth quarter, Boise State offered up another dose of Fiesta Bowl chicanery. The play was called "Riddler." It was sent in with the instructions to deploy it only if the Frogs went into punt-block formation. They did. Protector J.C. Percy pointed back to punter Kyle Brotzman, and "away we go," said Petersen.

Brotzman -- who fashions himself an unofficial quarterback (he goes through their drills in practice on Thursdays) took the snap and threw 29 yards downfield to streaking, wide-open tight end Kyle Effaw.

"Shame on us for not expecting it," said TCU's Jeremy Kerley.

With Boise State down to the TCU 38-yard-line and nearly 40,000 orange-and-blue clad faithful freshly awoken, Moore, the nation's top-rated passer, sprang to life just long enough to give his team the lead. After completing passes of 11, 9 and 16 yards, tailback Doug Martin flipped himself into the end zone for a 17-10 lead.

But unlike the Oklahoma game, the Broncos' offense was not their central attraction this time around. Despite getting ample protection (Boise held TCU without a single sack), Moore struggled to hit open receivers. Frogs star Jerry Hughes forced a fumble and tipped one of Moore's passes. The running game netted just 2.4 yards per attempt. It took an elite defense to win the 2010 Fiesta Bowl -- just not the one most people were expecting.

"TCU's defense may be well known," said Wilson. "I don't know why ours isn't well known, but we were better today."

By the fourth quarter, TCU had essentially given up trying to run. Boise State's unexpected switch to a three-man front, constant movement along the line and a package of new blitzes had served its purpose.

"We deigned everything around their running game," said Wilcox. "We wanted to make them throw."

The strategy had netted two Thompson interceptions, but the junior had also fallen for a Dalton pump fake on the Horned Frogs' lone touchdown. He'd get his chance to redeem himself.

After TCU's Jeremy Kerley returned a low, line-drive Brotzman punt to the Boise State 34 with 5:37 remaining, the Broncos forced Dalton into a fourth and 6 incompletion. When Brotzman pinned his last punt down to the Frogs' 1-yard-line with just 1:06 left, the game appeared over.

But Dalton began leading his team down the field for a possible last-second score. Four completions and a Boise pass-interference set TCU up at the Broncos' 30-yard-line with 29 seconds remaining. On first down, Dalton stepped back and threw a strike toward receiver Antione Hicks on the right sideline. Hicks and Thompson went up for the ball at the same time, it tipped into the air and safety Winston Venable hauled in a game-sealing interception.

Moments later, a mass of white jerseys and orange-and-blue-clad family and friends converged on midfield to celebrate the Broncos' second Fiesta Bowl win; their second undefeated season; and the sport's first 14-0 team since 2002 Ohio State.

Amidst the throng, smiling linebacker Derrell Acrey stopped to talk to anyone with a microphone or notebook.

"Everyone was talking about Boise State's offense, TCU's defense," said Acrey. "Boise State's defense rose up today. We showed our physicality."

Talk about an image makeover.

Three years ago on this same field, the Broncos etched themselves into the nation's conscience with a bag full of trick plays. While Petersen and his program basked in the attention, they continued to have to win the nation's respect.

An undefeated 2008 regular season netted them a Poinsettia Bowl date with the Horned Frogs. (TCU won that one 17-16.) After initially rising to No. 5 in the polls last September on the strength of their Oregon rout, the Broncos found themselves stuck behind the immovable bloc of Florida/Alabama/Texas/Cincinnati. The Horned Frogs, with their domination of the more respected Mountain West, eventually surpassed Boise, forcing its conference, the WAC, to start lobbying for a second BCS at-large berth.

Given that opportunity at the 11th hour, and facing a team that came within one last-second Texas field goal of possibly playing in Pasadena, the Broncos seized their opportunity yet again. This win may cause a more tangible aftermath.

Remarkably, Petersen's team returns all but one starter (Wilson) next season. Monday's victory figures to buoy them to a preseason Top 5 ranking -- unprecedented territory for a non-BCS team. Their newfound defensive dominance gives more legitimacy with voters than the Statue of Liberty ever could. And with non-conference tests against Virginia Tech (in Washington D.C.) and Oregon State, the stars are aligned for a previously unthinkable possibility.

Asked if he knew where next year's BCS Championship Game will be played, Acrey answered correctly: "Back here. That's where we're planning to be -- back here in [Glendale]."

If and when that happens, we need to make a pact. We promise never to doubt the Broncos again.

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