Boise State Football: 10 Plays That Cost the Team a Shot at the National Title
There are some things that are just too painful to write about.
I can only imagine how difficult it had to be for local Oklahoma sports writers the day after the Boise State-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl. How do you even put into words the kind of disappointment a game like that puts into your soul?
I feel similarly after Boise State's epic letdown against Nevada, in which they had numerous chances to win the game outright.
Boise head coach Chris Petersen was a true gentleman after the game, repeating several times that "one play can win a game, but one play doesn't lose a game." You heard this repeated not only by Petersen in his postgame comments, but echoed again in interviews with BSU QB Kellen Moore and safety George Iloka.
They're right. One play didn't lose this game. Several plays did. And without further ado, here they are. The 10 plays that cost Boise State not only Friday night's game, but also a chance at something much bigger, a spot in the National Championship Game.
1) Cam Newton to Terrell Zachery for 70 Yards and a Touchdown
This was the play that started the Auburn comeback, the comeback that ended up becoming Auburn's 12th victory, all but securing their place in the BCS National Championship Game.
If two Alabama defenders could have managed to bring down Zachery, Boise State fans would have celebrated in the Nevada parking lot outside Mackay Stadium. Then they would have realized the task at hand and buckled down and finished off the Wolfpack.
Instead, the Broncos first had to witness as the Tigers clawed their way back into the game, then finally went ahead for good. Then they witnessed as Greg McElroy was knocked out of the game, effectively ending any hopes for an Alabama comeback.
THEN they had to take the field against Nevada, knowing that they had missed out on a chance to play for a national title, and that regardless of how bad they beat Nevada, there would be no title this season.
I know Chris Petersen has been darn adamant about focusing on only the game at hand, but BSU QB Kellen Moore admitted after the Boise loss that the implications of this game were on everyone's mind.
It's hard enough to beat a talented team like Nevada on their home turf, with a conference title hanging in the balance. But it's even harder when you've worked all season long for a chance at something only to find out before the final (real) game of your season that you still have no chance.
2) Kellen Moore Sacked by Doyle Miller For a Six-Yard Loss
Kellen Moore had only been sacked five times coming into this game.
That's by far the best number in the country. For being a short, slow white guy, Moore is incredibly hard to bring down. He has excellent footwork and like Peyton Manning makes excellent use of a little slide here and little step forward there.
It was so strange to see him finally get rattled a little bit against Nevada in the second-half.
After the teams traded drives, one that ended in a punt for BSU and the other a blocked field-goal for Nevada, Boise was putting together a pretty good drive. Doug Martin got 12-yards on back-to-back carries and Austin Pettis and Moore hooked up for a six-yard pass.
Then Doyle Miller stepped in and brought Moore down for a six-yard loss, making it 3rd-and-10 for Boise State.
Moore tried to find Pettis, who couldn't get his hands on the ball, and the Broncos were forced to punt from their own 28.
On the next drive, Nevada drove 58 yards...culminating in...
3) Colin Kaepernick's 18-Yard TD Run
Much like Rishard Matthews' 44-yard touchdown run, I have no idea how the Broncos weren't able to contain Kaepernick.
They guy hadn't had a meaningful run all night long. They forced him from the pocket and made him run around a bit, and then he took off towards the sideline and the end zone. And somehow no Bronco could catch him.
I know he's got good wheels, but come on!
Kapernick's TD regenerated the momentum that the Wolfpack lost from their blocked field-goal attempt the drive before, and kick-started the offense into overdrive.
4) Rishard Matthews' 44-Yard Touchdown Run
Rishard Matthews killed the Broncos.
And never more than on his 44-yard reverse that resulted in a touchdown that brought Nevada within three points at 24-21.
Matthews broke numerous tackles on the play and somehow broke through the Broncos defense to get to the sideline. From there his speed did the rest.
This is the kind of play that has haunted the Broncos in the past, especially against WAC opponents like Nevada and Fresno State. It's also the kind of play that the Broncos defense has been excellent at defending against this year. I still don't know what happened. It looked like defenders had Matthews wrapped up, at least twice.
The Broncos offense didn't help much.
On the previous drive, they only used up 57 seconds of clock before giving the ball back to Nevada, who was fresh off of a nine-play, four-minute drive that gassed several Bronco defenders.
One run for negative two yards and two incomplete passes, and there's your game.
5) Doug Martin's Loss of 1 Yard
Boise State got the ball back after the Matthews reverse TD with 13 minutes remaining.
They were finally able to hit on a first-down play, resulting in nine yards on a pass from Moore to Young. That set up a 2nd-and-1. An easy first down, especially for these Broncos. On second down, Moore again went to the air, looking for Young.
3rd-and-1. They get that yard and maybe they get a few more first downs, maybe sustain a drive, maybe win the game. Guess we'll never know, since Doug Martin, who rushed for a season-high 152 yards on the night, couldn't even get back to the line of scrimmage.
Loss of one. Broncos punt and Nevada marches down the field on a 15-play, 87-yard drive that eats up six minutes.
That one yard very easily could have cost the Broncos the game.
6) Kellen Moore's 36-Yard Pooch Punt
Granted, I'm a huge fan of the Kellen Moore pooch punt.
It brings me back to the days when Joe Theismann used to do the same thing for the Redskins, catching teams insanely off guard.
Moore's punt caught Nevada off guard, and they had to start their drive at their own 7-yard line. Problem is, they took the ball 87 yards the other way and kicked a game-tying field goal. Bummer.
At the time of the punt, the Broncos had the ball on the Nevada 43-yard line. It was 4th-and-2.
Boise has certainly gone for it in instances like this before, and in much bigger situations.
Still, the decision to have Moore kick it instead of trying to find a receiver like Doug Martin out of the backfield still sticks in my mind. They convert that fourth down, and they're almost in field-goal range.
And remember, Brotzman hasn't had his meltdown yet, so he probably would have turned a three-point game into a six-point lead.
7) Brotzman's Missed Field Goal...the First One
Who ever would have thunk that with nine seconds remaining with the ball at the Boise State 37-yard line, Brotzman would have had the chance to kick for a game-winner from only 26 yards away?
Not me. Not Chris Petersen. And certainly not Kyle Brotzman.
And then Kellen Moore and Titus Young stepped in and provided what could have been the biggest play in Boise State history. Yes, I said it. Forget the Fiesta Bowl, Statue of Liberty and the Hook and Ladder. This play could have catapulted the Broncos into a national title game. Nothing beats that.
8) Not Looking For Austin Pettis on the Broncos OT Drive
Everybody who has played Boise State knows that the bread-and-butter play is an Austin Pettis slant in the red zone.
Worked against Virginia Tech in the waning minutes. Worked against everyone since. And yet, Kellen Moore consistently looked elsewhere on the decisive drive. A failed screen to Doug Martin and two passes that slipped off the fingers of Titus Young.
I get that Young was the hot hand all night long. He had six catches for 129 yards and a score. But Pettis is the man in the red zone. And you have to find him, one way or another.
9) Sending Brotzman Out to Kick the 29-Yarder in OT
I get that not sending Kyle Brotzman back out to attempt a 29-yard field goal in overtime sends a bad message, especially to a senior kicker who will go down in history as the best in WAC history.
But this wasn't about hurting a kid's feelings. This was about winning a game. And earning a shot at eternal glory. A spot in the National Championship Game, potentially.
The Broncos have employed multiple kickers this season. In order to keep Brotzman fresh, Chris Petersen has allowed Trevor Harman to come in and do the kicking duties on two PATs as well as handle kickoffs. Heck, Harman even did the kickoffs during this game. He's also used Jimmy Pavel, who has kicked nine PATs.
Given that they have had multiple kickers see time this season, I just don't see any way that you can send Brotzman back out in OT to attempt that kick, even if it was a 19-yarder.
Everyone saw last season how terribly Brotzman was affected by his inability to connect from the left hash. It haunted him game after game after game. This clearly isn't a kicker who handles adversity well and can just put a terrible miss behind him.
So you go with Pavel, who was fresh, both physically and mentally, and let him etch his name in history.
10) Not Calling a Timeout To Ice Nevada's Struggling Kicker
I know for a fact that I wasn't the only one waiting for Chris Petersen to call a timeout to ice Nevada's kicker, Anthony Martinez.
Heck, I'm sure even Martinez was. Maybe that was part of Petersen's game plan, to ice him by not icing him.
Either way, it didn't work. Martinez drilled the attempt and made Boise fans long for the days of Nick Calaycay and Tyler Jones.
The only reason I bring it up is because Boise knew that they're only chance was to block that kick. No way this Martinez kid is shanking one to the right on his home field. They didn't call a timeout and therefore gave a half-hearted attempt at blocking the kick.
You can see one of the BSU players standing off to the side, watching the kick sail through the uprights. Are you kidding? This should have been all hands on deck. The "lightning block" from NCAA Football.
Clearly a missed opportunity by Petersen.
If you really wanted to put a finger on the one play that cost Boise State the game, it would have to be the one play that had game-winning implications attached to it, and that would be Kyle Brotzman's field-goal attempt as time expired.
And gone with the Nevada game are Boise State's hopes for a BCS bid this year, and maybe even next year, when they're a full-fledged member of the MWC.
But ultimately, Chris Petersen had it right. One play didn't lose this game, but for Nevada all it took was one play to win it.
BTW, credit BSU defensive lineman Billy Winn for not raging out and beating the crap out of this Nevada fan, who in another photo can be seen flipping the Bronco defender the bird. Way to go Billy! Way to not be LeGarrette Blount.