When Boise State senior wide receiver Matt Miller was in Las Vegas in July for the Mountain West media preview, I asked him about the candidates to become the third go-to receiver in the Broncos’ offense.
“You’ve got to watch out for Thomas Sperbeck,” he said. “He’s had a great offseason.”
Two months later, it was Sperbeck — despite not having a catch this season — who replaced Miller when he was injured against Air Force.
Sperbeck has nine catches for a team-high 130 yards in six quarters as the X receiver. He is expected to make his second career start Friday against Fresno State.
“Thomas has progressed as the season has gone on,” wide receivers coach Junior Adams said. “Each week, his role has progressed. At Air Force, when he made that grab up the sideline on the go ball (see video above) when times are tough you see a guy like him step up and weather the storm a little bit and give us a little bit of mojo and a little bit of excitement on the sideline. We look for those guys who are mentally tough and Thomas is definitely one.”
Miller underwent ankle surgery Monday and likely will not play for the Broncos again. Coach Bryan Harsin informed the team, but Sperbeck heard the news from Miller.
“I just told him he did a great job and I’ll try to fill in for him the best I can,” Sperbeck said.
Sperbeck played 64 of 79 offensive snaps two weeks ago at Nevada. It was a big jump after seeing sporadic playing time as a true freshman in 2013 and in the first four and a half games this year.
“It felt good,” he said. “It was a lot different. Playing a whole game, it seems a lot longer.”
Sperbeck had played slot receiver until mid-September, when he moved to Miller’s outside spot as the backup. He says he’s been “up and down” so far.
He admits to some thoughts about replacing the school’s all-time leader in receptions, but coaches’ message has been that the entire team must pick up the slack, not one guy.
“You think about it sometimes,” Sperbeck said. “But I think that other guys have been stepping up and will continue to step up and fill Matt’s shoes. I don’t feel too much pressure. It’s a huge opportunity for me just to prove how hard I’ve been working. Hopefully I make the most of it.”
Said Adams: “We’re not saying, ‘Hey, Tommy Sperbeck, now you’ve got to definitely be the guy.’ You just have to continue to get better and when your number is called make plays.”
And so far, Sperbeck has.
“He’s done a great job,” senior quarterback Grant Hedrick said. “He’s quietly gone in and done his job.”
Adams hopes to keep Miller, the offensive captain, heavily involved in the wide receivers room and on the sideline despite his injury.
“Matt’s the face of this program and he exemplifies the blue-collar mentality here,” Adams said. “We understand Matt is still part of this program. Matt, for example, at Nevada did a heck of a job on the sideline charting plays and he was an extra set of eyes. He was a player-coach when he was playing. To have him on the sideline was a big help.”
Adams hopes Miller’s presence will allow him to continue his leadership role.
“Matt’s still the leader in that group,” Adams said.
“A lot of guys in that room look up to him and I lean on him a lot,” Adams said. “He addressed the group and said: ‘All you guys learn from this. You don’t know when it’s your last play.’ Matt is a great example in all ways, how he carries himself on the field and off the field. I’m just looking forward to him recovering from surgery so I can get him right back on the sideline next to me.”
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Fresno State at Boise State
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387 , FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN (Dave Flemming, David Diaz-Infante, Allison Williams)
Radio: KBOI (670AM), KKGL (96.9 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender
Records: Boise State is 4-2 overall, 2-1 Mountain West; Fresno State is 3-4, 2-1.
Series: Boise State leads 11-5 (Fresno State won 41-40 last year in Fresno)
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