Can Cougs bust Broncs?

Until last week's season-opening setback at South Carolina, Boise State's Broncos hadn't tasted defeat since last October when the Cougars pulled out a 42-35 nail-biter in Martin Stadium.

5:05 pm Pacific Time

30,000-seat Bronco Stadium

No Live TV, Fox Sports Northwest will air a one-hour highlight special Sunday at 4:30 p.m PT

Cougars by 4 1/2

WSU 34, Boise State 21

A week after Adam Hawkins barreled into the end zone for the winning Cougar TD with barely a minute left on the clock, the eventual Big West Conference champions reeled off nine straight, including a Humanitarian Bowl victory over UTEP that capped off a 10-2 season.

That seven-game win streak came to a convincing, 32-13 end at the hands of No. 21 South Carolina last Saturday, but Gamecock head coach Lou Holtz says the Broncos have the potential to win nine games this season.

The road back begins this weekend in Boise against Washington State, as the 1-0 Cougars try to make it a clean sweep of the Gem State's top two grid programs.

History, from the BSU perspective, is on the Broncos' side. They've won their last 14 home games, not losing on the Blue Turf since Idaho nipped them by a point in overtime in 1998. Moreover, they like to boast, they sport the 12th-best winning percentage of all Division I-A teams, sandwiched around the likes of Florida State at No. 11 and Washington at No. 13. Of course, the BSU public relations types don't mention that the school didn't start playing ball until 1968 and that most of its 251 career wins were racked up in the Division I-AA Big Sky Conference. 

Alas, from the Cougars' perspective, the historical tide is decidedly with them. Boise State has never beaten a Pac-10 team, bringing an 0-6 record --- including three losses to the Cougars --- into Saturday evening's showdown.

To wipe out that goose egg, the traditionally potent BSU offense will have to get back on track. The South Carolina affair marked the first time in 18 straight games that the Broncos failed to score 30 or more points. Seven starters return from last year's scoring machine, including three wideouts who gave the Cougars fits in 2000: Lou Fanucchi, Jay Swillie and Jeb Putzier. Collectively they caught 15 passes for 221 yards in Pullman.

Of course, the man throwing to that triumvirate last year is now trying to stick in the NFL. For the first time in three years, someone other than Bart Hendricks is leading the BSU offense. It's sophomore Ryan Dinwiddie. Against South Carolina he completed 18 of 31 passes for 162 yards and drew praise from his rookie head coach. "He showed some poise and made some good throws," said Dan Hawkins, a BSU assistant before ascending to the throne when Dirk Koetter moved to Tempe.

Dinwiddie's youth, coupled with WSU's speed at defensive end and athleticism in the secondary, figures to add up to a lot of blitzing. If Dinwiddie can make the reads and get rid of the ball quickly, look for this one to be close well into the fourth quarter. If veteran Idaho QB John Welsh's experience last week is any indication, that may be tall order for the youngster. The Cougar D did a masterful job of disguising itself --- showing blitz, then backing out; showing man, then playing zone.

"Plus," says Fox Sports sideline analyst Paul Sorensen, "Lamont Thompson's imposing presence in the middle of the secondary pretty much closed that part of the field to the Idaho passing game. With no crossing patterns , Idaho's field of opportunity was basically reduced by a third. The result was epic: Idaho failed to cross mid-field on 12 of its possessions."

On offense, the key for the Cougars at Boise will be two-fold: Protect the ball and keep those damnable penalties --- 15 against Idaho --- in check. If they can do that, they have the horses on both sides of the ball to execute their game plan. Also, BSU's defensive line is mostly new, so look for the Cougars to pull a page from their Idaho game plan by keeping the ball on the ground in the early going.

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