Broncos no stranger to the big stage

SEATTLE - Everyone saw the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Boise State down 7 with barely a minute to go. Three botched plays. And then on 4th and 18, a miracle emerged out of the Arizona desert, dressed in orange and blue. A hook-and-lateral for a touchdown and then two gimmick plays in overtime sealed the most improbable win of the 2006-07 bowl season for the Broncos.

But for football legitimacy to find a home in Boise, Idaho, it must have sustained success. "In the past, people would say you've got the blue field, and now at least they'll say you've got the blue field and you played in the Fiesta Bowl," BSU Head Coach Chris Petersen said Monday.

"It's a slow process, but we're making headway."

The Broncos, for all their recent triumps - a current 14-game winning streak, a BCS Bowl win - still haven't overcome one main hurdle...beating a BCS team in their own house. But they plan on taking a big 'ol swipe at it Saturday at Husky Stadium as they take on Washington at 12:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Northwest.

So far the Broncos have won four of their last eight against BCS programs - twice against Oregon State, once against Iowa State, and the win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. The win over the Sooners catapulted the Broncos into uncharted territory.

"It's been great exposure for our program and players, but we've had to work hard to keep things balanced," Petersen said. "We have really good kids here, and we talk to them all the time about the mentality they bring to work every day. They've done a good job since the winter of focusing in on the work that needs to get done and leaving last year in the past. This is a new season with a bunch of new challenges.

"We try to not get too hung up on what's happened in the past, whether good or bad. It's very important for us to go out Saturday and play well and play a really good University of Washington team. And if we can do that, we'll think we have a pretty good football team."

Petersen, despite losing quarterback Jared Zabransky, tight end Derek Schouman and receivers Legedu Naanee, Drisan James and Jerard Rabb, is hoping to pick up right where he left off offensively - and it all starts with junior running back Ian Johnson. Johnson, second in the country in rushing and first in touchdowns last season, comes back with a new focus and a ring on his left hand, a souvenir of his recent wedding that was based on his now-famous 'proposal' to BSU Cheerleader Chrissy Popadics right after the Broncos' stunning Fiesta Bowl win.

"That was just another huge distraction around here," Petersen said of the impending nuptuals. The couple eventually got married at the end of the summer. "There were so many things that have happened that nobody could have really anticipated it. I don't think Ian had any idea that he thought that him proposing on national TV would have those kind of ramifications, but it didn't die down until he got married."

1713 yards and 25 touchdowns will bring up the inevitable questions - who does Johnson remind people of? Petersen isn't quite sure. "He's a hard guy to compare," Petersen said of his star back. "I don't know who his style is like. He's a patient runner. He sets his blocks up well. He's pretty strong, and he runs on the field faster than what he probably times in a 40. He's just a good, solid running back, a good football player."

Replacing Zabransky was probably the hardest piece of the puzzle for Petersen, but he feels like senior Taylor Tharp has what it takes to manage the game and give the Broncos what they need - stability and balance. "We think he's a good player," Petersen said of Tharp. "He's been in our system for five years now. Taylor does know what's going on. That's the biggest thing for our quarterback. He does understand the system. We haven't felt like we need to revamp things for a new guy in our system.

In BSU's first game of the season - a 56-7 romp over Weber State on their famous blue 'smurf turf', Tharp's numbers were phenomenal; 14-of-19 for 184 and one touchdown, with no interceptions. They were also against a Division 1-AA opponent.

"He throws well, but the biggest thing for us was for him to be more consistent," Petersen added, when asked of Tharp. "He knows the drill around here, so all we needed him to do was be more consistent, and he did that (at Weber State). He did a great job of doing everything we asked, but this is going to be a much more difficult test for him. Things are going to happen much faster. It's time to see what he can get done against a team like Washington.

"We're certainly facing a different animal in game two."

But it's not like Petersen and the Broncos are looking for a miracle anymore.

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