December 24, 2008
TCU 17, Boise State 16. You have to give Boise State this: The Broncos do all the little things right. Not that they execute perfectly all the time, but almost every game I've watched BSU play under Chris Peterson, including the epic Fiesta upset of Oklahoma and tonight's loss to TCU, has followed the same pattern: A fast, aggressive start; some key bit of opportunism on defense; a big gain off a well-timed trick play; and a strong counterpunch when the momentum begins to turn. It seems like a very well-coached team with a killer instinct and a lot of resiliency. At the very least, they know how to hang around.
Because physically, it's just not there. TCU is hardly the first team to manhandle the Broncos, and hardly the most physically overwhelming in the process. But after taking Boise's initial jab in the first quarter, the Frogs were clearly in control of the line of scrimmage on both sides by the second quarter, and when they were determined to run (which, with Andy Dalton throwing 35 times, probably wasn't as often as it should have been until the fourth quarter), there wasn't much Boise could do about it. This is evident in the team numbers, where TCU had a 247-yard rushing advantage and three individual players with double-digit carries, all of them averaging at least 4.6 yards per. Boise, by contrast, had one run longer than five yards all night -- and Ian Johnson, who broke the 20-yard touchdown sprint to put the Broncos up 10-0 in the first quarter, totaled -1 yard on his other seven carries. BSU had two rushing first downs to TCU's sixteen.
I think it says a lot that the Broncos were able to lead for nearly the entire game following their opening 10-0 surge, after which nearly half of their total offense for the final three-and-a-half quarters came on one death-defying, 65-yard catch-and-run from Kellen Moore to Vinny Perretta out of their own end zone. They hung in on defense, keeping TCU off the board on six different trips into Boise territory; when the offense was in a straitjacket, they manufactured first downs -- five of Boise's 15 total first downs for the night were by penalty, including two crucial pass interference penalties (one on third down, one on 2nd-and-17) that set up both of the Broncos' field goals. They came up with the big turnover. But when BSU failed to make it 17-0 after Bryon Hout's surprisingly nimble interception return in the second quarter, settling for a field goal and 13-0, it lost the edge it needed to make up for the fact that TCU was just physically better.
Hand it to the Broncos: They're tough, they're smart, they're gamers. They "know how to win," in coaching parlance. If this game was partially to determine which of these perennial overachievers really deserved a bigger stage, though, there's no doubt: It's the Frogs.