Instant Analysis - Fiesta Bowl
Boise State 17 ... TCU 10
Fiesta Bowl Stream-of-Consciousness Notes
As much as I tried to fight it, as much as I tried to argue against it, and as much as I tried to downplay it, the main storyline turned out to be true and college football fans' worst fears for this game were realized.
We learned nothing.
Did Boise State or TCU show anything to suggest that they wouldn't be wiped off the map by a motivated Alabama, Texas, or Florida? How about the Ohio State team that played so well in the Rose Bowl? Yeah, the defenses were fine, but neither did anything all that special; I thought the poor offensive play had as much to do with the bad game, and it was a bad game up until Boise State's fake punt that sparked the game-winning touchdown drive, as anything the defenses were doing. Both teams would've been obliterated by the Gator team that showed up in the Sugar Bowl, while it's hard to think that Texas and Alabama, if properly motivated, wouldn't have shut both the Horned Frogs and Broncos down. But that's a belief and hardly a fact.
The one thing that can be proven is that the system has been exposed as fatally flawed yet again. Boise State was the one undefeated team that wasn't even close to playing for the national title, and it turned out to be the best of the non-Texas/Bama lot. Remember, had Hunter Lawrence of Texas missed the field goal attempt against Nebraska, Cincinnati would've finished No. 2 to play Alabama, and even with Brian Kelly as the head coach, would've gotten destroyed. TCU was within a hair of that No. 2 spot and would've been screaming had Texas lost. And where was Boise State? Had Nebraska hung on to become the Big 12 champion it would've gone to the Fiesta Bowl to face TCU, Cincinnati would've gone on to play Alabama in the BCS Championship, and Texas would almost certainly have gone to the Sugar Bowl to face Florida. Boise State probably would've pushed for a spot in the Poinsettia Bowl to face Arizona.
Again, while I think Boise State loses to the top teams (Alabama, Texas, Florida), who saw Utah coming against Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl? It's a shame there isn't more to go on after a game like this, because yes, in the end, all that Boise State did was beat another non-BCS team. Had this game been played at a higher level, it might be an easier sell to think that these two programs deserve more national respect, but neither is likely to get it.
Learn from this, BCS. Next time, give us all more to work with.
How do you do it, Broncos? Year after year, how in the world do you keep that staff of young and talented coaches from leaving Boise and moving on to larger programs?
After beating TCU for its second Fiesta Bowl win since 2007, Boise State will finish the season as just one of two unbeatens for a variety of reasons. Coaching continuity belongs at the very top of the list. Oh, and it's much more than just Chris Petersen, who's been with the program for a decade. Coordinator Bryan Harsin has one of the best offensive minds in the game and he's only 32. And the there's Justin Wilcox. Also in his early 30s, he's the fourth-year defensive coordinator, whose stellar job of coaching up marginal prospects and scheming for opponents was on full display in Arizona Monday night.
Quick, what's the first thing you think of when Boise State is mentioned? For most, it's going to be the blue turf or the high-scoring. Defense? They play defense in Idaho? They sure do. Without any blue-chip prospects and just one sure-fire NFL Draft choice—CB Kyle Wilson—the Broncos capped another underrated season on defense by holding the Horned Frogs to just 10 points. Yup, the same Frogs that hadn't been held under 38 points in a game since Oct. 10. Sans the star power, the unit is extremely well-coached, getting pressure up front from Billy Winn and Ryan Winterswyck, rarely missing tackles in the open field, and locking down receivers with the help of Wilson, CB Brandyn Thompson, and safeties Jeron Johnson and George Iloka.
TCU was in Boise State territory in its last two possessions, needing a touchdown to send the game to overtime. On the next to last drive, the Frogs began at the Bronco 31, thanks to a Jeremy Kerley return, but picked up just four yards on four plays before giving the ball up on downs. On the final drive, they moved to the 30 with under a minute left, but were picked off by LB Winston Venable to end the game. Wilcox's defense, like his future in the profession, was outstanding. Yet, the coach shows no signs of seeking a promotion. Special place, that Boise.
1) Yes, the two offensive coordinators in this game had a very rough night between the headsets. Yes, Boise State repeatedly failed to use TCU's defensive speed against the Horned Frogs. Yes, TCU's offensive staff – in the middle of an impressive drive midway through the third quarter – abruptly stopped using an increasingly confident set of receivers, and settled for a disappointing field goal in the process. Yes, TCU's play calling was abysmal, and yes, this was not the fireworks show Boise State produced in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. No one would say that this was a well-played, well-coached game on the offensive side of the ball.
… What one has to realize about this matchup – which did a great disservice to both of these teams and to the sport of college football as a whole – was that it represented a rematch of last season's Poinsettia Bowl. While it's true that Broncos-Frogs was a disappointing pairing because neither one of these programs had a chance to take on a power conference foe, the even bigger drawback about the 2010 Fiesta Bowl was the fact that it represented a rematch. Bowl games are supposed to provide fresh new matchups and offer a sense of mystery, but after Boise coach Chris Petersen and TCU boss Gary Patterson were able to scout each other for a few weeks at the end of the 2008 regular season, they already knew what to look for in the film room. Naturally, the defenses were far ahead of the offenses this time around. Naturally, neither offense was able to surprise a fast and fully prepared gang of 11 on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Many complained that this bowl would disappoint because it was the "little kids matchup" between two teams from conferences bereft of BCS bowl lock-ins. However, at the end of a decidedly boring battle in Glendale, Ariz., the true reason by Boise State-TCU left a sour taste in the mouths of college football fans was that we'd seen this movie before… in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.
2) There was only one key to this contest before kickoff, and that's the key that wound up killing TCU: mistakes.
The Horned Frogs own ample talent, as seen in their impressive march through the 2009 regular season. However, this is a program that has been known to slip on the banana peel in big games. Last season, a stack of yards and consistently superior field position produced only 10 points for TCU, whose offense sputtered in the red zone and whose kicker – Ross Evans – choked in a 13-10 loss at Utah. In 2007, Andy Dalton repeatedly made bad decisions and succumbed to pressure, particularly in meaningful conference collisions at Air Force and BYU. In the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl against Boise State, the Horned Frogs collected almost twice as many first downs as the Broncos (28-15) and racked up almost twice as many yards (472-250), but won by only one point, 17-16, because of turnovers and a general inability to finish drives. Heading into the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, the only truly significant question was this: Would the Horned Frogs – especially Dalton – play with serenity, mental clarity, and a general freedom from fear?
After 60 minutes of sloppiness and struggle, it's painfully apparent that the Dalton Gang couldn't find the peace and poise needed to perform well. Instead of allowing their collective talents to spill out in full flower on the canvas of the gridiron, the members of the TCU offense sweated, stumbled and stuttered throughout the evening at University of Phoenix Stadium. Dalton constantly failed to survey the entirety of the Boise State defense. He locked onto receivers on one side of the field, and his accuracy came and went against the Broncos. Three interceptions later, a purple-shirted quarterback bore most of the blame for a TCU train wreck that re-emerged at a most inopportune time.
Yet, as horribly as Dalton played, his offensive line got mashed by BSU's front seven. Even more alarmingly, Dalton's receivers dropped a fat stack of passes, including Antoine Hicks's dreadful display on a can of corn Dalton laid in his breadbasket with roughly 5:30 left in regulation.
On a night when TCU's defense gave up only 10 points (and seven of those were the result of a game-defining fake punt Boise sprang on the Horned Frogs' special teams unit), a merely average showing would have put Texas Christian in the winner's circle. Andy Dalton and his offensive teammates didn't have to run wild in order to win this game; the people in purple merely needed to avoid the nervous mistakes and flop-sweat-filled foul-ups that have plagued TCU in seasons past. Yet, because TCU's offense was unable to handle the pressure of a big stage – much as Oregon's offense shrank in the unfamiliar spotlight of the 2010 Rose Bowl just three days earlier – a team more accustomed to the BCS bowl spotlight was able to prevail. Much as Ohio State handled itself with far more maturity than Oregon did in Pasadena, so it also was that Boise State looked like a team that knew how to deal with an outsized occasion in suburban Phoenix. A TCU team making its first appearance in a BCS bowl clearly looked overwhelmed by the klieg-light glare of an early-January showcase event.
The only good thing that can be said for TCU after this disappointing yet not-too-surprising slip up in the spotlight is that the Horned Frogs have now gotten their feet wet. They've finally experienced how suffocating it can be to breathe the air of a BCS bowl. The next time Gary Patterson brings his pupils to a five-star throwdown in the first week of January, the boys from Fort Worth, Tex., will have a much better chance to get out of their own way, tame their nerves, and allow their abilities to naturally emerge on a football field.
Boise State has officially become Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. No matter what happens, the Broncos will find themselves in the circumstances over and over again.
Undefeated? Doesn't matter. Dominating win over the Pac-10 champion? Doesn't matter. They'll end up in a BCS bowl that isn't the championship.
Coach Chris Petersen was put in an untenable position, needing a dominant win over an outstanding TCU team to get the necessary respect from the coaches' poll to make a return visit to Glendale next year. Instead, the Horned Frogs and Broncos put on a slugfest worthy of the SEC, the kind of game where style points can't be earned.
Now Boise State will likely find itself behind Alabama, Ohio State and perhaps others like Oregon, despite returning almost every starter and backup from the team that finished 14-0. Even with a game against Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium North – a.k.a. Landover, MD – and a visit from Pac-10 runner-ups Oregon State, the Broncos will find it almost impossible to vault ahead of its brethren from the SEC, Big 12, Pac-10 or Big Ten.
The more jaded among us might believe that's exactly why the BCS refused to pair Boise State against a team from an automatic qualifying conference in the first place.