Bronco Beat: Boise State, Utah State coaches build relationship despite rivalry

ccripe@idahostatesman.comOctober 11, 2013 

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Boise State football coach Chris Petersen press conference, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012.

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com

Utah State’s trips to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2011 and 2012 built a connection between the coaching staffs of the Aggies and Boise State Broncos.

The Aggies were the houseguests and the Broncos their welcoming hosts.

On Saturday, those staffs will go head to head in a critical Mountain West football game in Logan, Utah.

“Particularly when it’s a team in our league, we take great pride in having those guys come in and win the bowl game,” Boise State offensive line coach Chris Strausser said. “Anything we can do to make it more hospitable, we do. And we try to take advantage of the fact that they’re here and let’s talk some football. And they do, too.”

Members of the Broncos’ staff attended the Aggies’ practices during both bowl trips. First-year Utah State coach Matt Wells, who was an assistant on those teams, followed up by visiting the Broncos and his new friends, Strausser and linebackers coach Bob Gregory, during one offseason.

And in early 2012, Wells — then the offensive coordinator of the Aggies — interviewed for the Broncos’ vacant quarterbacks job.

Wells, a 40-year-old former Utah State quarterback, was on the staff at Tulsa when the Broncos and Golden Hurricane clashed from 2002 to 2004. He met Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who was the offensive coordinator, then.

Strausser met Wells for the first time at the 2011 bowl game.

“We’ve really grown to appreciate Matt’s coaching style,” Strausser said. “We thought he was an excellent coach really the first time we watched him. That’s the first thing (former Utah State coach) Gary Andersen said, ‘Hey, this guy’s a young star.’ So we’ve tried to build up a relationship there. It’s always been a good time.”

Wells sought out Petersen at the Mountain West media days in July in Las Vegas to seek advice about running a program. Even though they coach programs within the same division, Petersen went to dinner with him.

“It’s one thing if you’re playing each other and you’re talking about schemes and strategies that you implement,” Petersen said. “But guys that you like and you know are new at their role in terms of how do you handle philosophy-type things, I think it’s important to try to help them.”

•••

Youthful mistakes have plagued the Boise State defense this season.

Youthful enthusiasm has sparked the special teams.

“Guys are hungry,” sophomore tailback Jack Fields said. “They’re trying to take advantage of every opportunity they get right now on the field and they’re just executing the game plan.”

The young talent has been most obvious with the Hammer, which generally goes to the player with the biggest hit on special teams. The last three announced winners were all first-year players — redshirt freshman linebacker Chris Santini, true freshman linebacker Tanner Vallejo and sophomore safety Taylor Loffler, who was injured the past two years. Redshirt freshman cornerback Chaz Anderson appeared to land the biggest hit Sept. 28 against Southern Miss and would continue the trend if he carries the Hammer this week.

“Some guys that haven’t been out there (on defense), they probably have more time to spend on special teams,” Santini said. “They can really focus on special teams and tune into it like I have been able to. … They’ve got their nose out for the Hammer.”

The Broncos, who were not as productive as usual on special teams last year, rank second in the nation in punt returns (26.7-yard average), 13th in net punting (40.6) and 39th in kickoff-return defense (19.5). They’re 54th in kickoff returns, but Dallas Burroughs’ two long returns at Fresno State were key to the Broncos’ 40-point output.

Kicker Dan Goodale ranks 37th in field-goal percentage (85.7) and has produced successful onside and pooch kicks.

The Broncos also have blocked two field goals and converted a fake punt.

“It’s been a group effort — a lot of guys locking into their role, and that’s what special teams is,” junior linebacker Corey Bell said. “… There’s not a lot of variability in each play. You kind of know beforehand what you need to get done and it’s on you to go out and do it.”

Special teams coach Scott Huff said the biggest differences this year are the performances by Goodale and the punters. That has led to better kickoff coverage and a huge improvement in net punting, where the Broncos ranked 108th last year.

“There’s still a lot of meat left on the bone,” Huff said. “… Kickoff return, we have missed some big things, so that’s a huge area of emphasis for improvement.”

•••

Tennessee last week lost a chance to upset Georgia when a player tried to reach the football across the goal line and fumbled out of the end zone, giving the ball to the Bulldogs.

It’s a common mistake — and one Petersen says is treated differently across the country. He preaches ball security.

“I think you get your body across with the ball,” he said. “If you extend it and you get it done, that’s not what we’re coaching, so it better be right. You’re never going to be wrong by launching your body with the ball. That’s the proper way. … For 20 years, we’ve had these discussions. Some coaches believe you should reach it over.”

•••

The Broncos will bus to Logan on Friday for the budget benefit and fly home Saturday night for the time benefit.

“I think the guys will kind of like it,” Petersen said of the rare drive.

•••

The players got Friday and Saturday off last week as part of the bye. Bell, a Capital High grad, planned to take some teammates target-shooting.

“I mean, who doesn’t want to go out and shoot some guns?” Bell said. “Everyone wants to, especially if they haven’t ever really been around it.”

•••

Senior center Matt Paradis on what he’s learned about this year’s team: “We’re pretty young as a team. They’re giving everything they’ve got. We are fighters.”

•••

The Broncos have won 48 straight games in October and 20 straight games against Utah schools and are 9-0 after byes under Petersen.

The Utah breakdown: 10 wins against Utah State, four against Utah, three against BYU, two against Weber State and one against Southern Utah. The last loss was in 1997 at Utah State.

The Broncos travel to Utah again in two weeks for a game at BYU.

Chadd Cripe is in his 12th year as the Idaho Statesman beat writer for Boise State football. He also is a voter for The Associated Press Top 25. You can contact him at ccripe@idahostatesman.com, follow him on Twitter at @IDS_BroncoBeat and read his blog at blogs.idahostatesman.com/broncobeat.

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