Boise State trounces UT Martin in home opener

ccripe@idahostatesman.comSeptember 8, 2013 

It was a therapeutic afternoon for the Boise State football team and its fans Saturday at Bronco Stadium.

Every touchdown — nine of them in all — relieved some of the pain of a dreadful season opener and eased some of the worries about this team’s ability to compete for a Mountain West championship.

The Broncos overwhelmed Football Championship Subdivision member UT Martin 63-14 with 56 consecutive points.

The Broncos lost 38-6 a week earlier at Washington.

“They came out and beat us good,” UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said. “We’re not Washington, but Boise State had something to prove today.”

The offense showed it still could thrill — with touchdowns that covered 54, 30 and 50 yards.

The defense showed resiliency — forcing six turnovers and scoring a touchdown of its own.

The special teams showed its old flair — contributing a surprise onside kick and a 43-yard punt return.

“It picks up the team chemistry and aura,” said sophomore wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes, who amassed 186 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

Those positive vibes will be important the next two weeks as the Broncos open Mountain West play with two problematic matchups — Air Force’s option offense on Friday at Bronco Stadium (6 p.m., ESPN) and Fresno State’s fast-paced spread attack Sept. 20 in Fresno.

“It’s so exciting now how the Mountain West has the two divisions, the West and the Mountain,” said senior quarterback Joe Southwick, who tossed a career-high five TD passes. “It just adds excitement for us. It’s going to add excitement for people who like our conference. This is going to be our first in-division battle, so we’re going to be excited to get to work on them.”

And, as every Bronco who met the media was quick to point out, there’s a lot of work ahead of Boise State (1-1).

“We have not arrived,” coach Chris Petersen said. “We took a step forward, and I think we learned a lot of things from the last game we played. We’ll learn a lot from this game.”

UT Martin (1-1), out of Tennessee, put up a strong fight early in Saturday’s game. The Skyhawks forced a fumble and a punt on the Broncos’ first two possessions and answered Boise State’s first TD with a 75-yard drive of their own to tie the score 7-7 late in the first quarter.

It was a subtle test for a young team that lost its way in the second half of the opener.

“Things will start to happen, and you can’t get down on yourself,” Petersen said. “I think that happened to us a little last week with all of our young/inexperienced guys. But you’ve just got to keep playing and the tide can change.”

In this case, the change was tsunami-like.

Southwick fired a 54-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Aaron Burks 80 seconds after the UTM score.

The Broncos, known for their unconventional play, set up another touchdown with a surprise onside kick. Junior kicker Dan Goodale skipped the ball along the turf to safety Ebo Makinde, who grabbed it 21 yards downfield.

“That was pretty sweet,” Southwick said. “We just maintained that swing of momentum and we really got some waves going.”

Southwick was in the game for six Boise State possessions after the onside kick. The Broncos scored touchdowns on five of them — including four TD passes from Southwick, who showed what the Broncos’ rebuilt offense can do.

He tossed a 5-yard strike to junior wide receiver Matt Miller on a goal-line slant toward the middle of the field. He threw another 5-yarder to senior wide receiver Kirby Moore, who cut toward the sideline. He flipped a screen pass to Williams-Rhodes, who scampered 15 yards untouched into the end zone.

And in what might be the most telling play of the game, Southwick changed a call at the line of scrimmage to get Williams-Rhodes wide open for a 30-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-7 to begin the third quarter.

“I kind of switched some things up — a little bit of a ‘keys to the car’-type thing,” Southwick said.

Said Williams-Rhodes: “Joe’s come a long way. I feel like every week he’s still getting better. He made the adjustment and after he made it, I sat there and looked at the coverage and I knew it was going to be a TD.”

Southwick likely will make more of those plays this season — the ones that are as much about his football intelligence as his passing ability.

That’s one reason coaches and teammates were so excited about what he could do this year before the offense stumbled at Washington.

Southwick was 17-of-25 for 234 yards Saturday. He was sacked twice and lost a fumble.

“He did a tremendous job of getting us in the right plays and getting it to the right guys,” offensive coordinator Robert Prince said. “He’ll get better like everybody else. That’s the thing we want to do is just compete and improve.”

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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