First of all, congrats to the Bengal football team, John Zamberlin and his staff, and all the seniors on their big overtime win over Sacramento State on Saturday. I was in Boise, preparing to broadcast the men's basketball game that night, and had to settle for second-hand reports of the game, so I missed all the excitement. But I'm extremely happy for Coach Z and his staff, and special kudos go to Kenyon Blue (in flight at right), the man for the Bengals on Saturday.
Bengal QB Kyle Blum did his part to keep the "quarterback controversy" alive over spring ball, with a 342-yard passing performance on Saturday. He seems to be developing a nice relationship with Isaiah Burel, and with Jaron Taylor coming back next year, the Bengals should have a potent passing attack. They need to add depth and speed at the wide receiver position, and find two or three running backs who can step in and contribute -- the faster the backs, the better.
The offensive line should be fairly well set next year -- with one notable exception - the key left tackle spot. I would imagine the Bengals will be hitting the junior colleges looking for candidates for the position. There doesn't seem to be a true left tackle candidate on the current roster.
The Griz Do It Again
Speaking of Big Sky football, I was once again amused to see that Weber State just couldn't quite shut the door on Montana's long reign as Big Sky champs. Weber's loss to Eastern Washington on Saturday allowed the Griz to claim, for the eleventh straight season, that they won or tied for the Big Sky crown. The loss to EWU also made it easy for the playoff committee to send the Wildcats on the road for the first round of the playoffs. Weber has to play Cal Poly, coming off an overtime loss at Wisconsin, in San Luis Obispo in the first round. And the Griz? Well, they are at home, of course, where they will host Texas State.
On another Cal Poly note, if the Mustangs had a reliable kicker, they very well could be enjoying an undefeated season this year. They lost to Montana early in the season when their kicker missed a 29-yard-field goal that would have given them a 31-30 win. The Mustangs also missed two extra points on Saturday in Madison, which would have allowed them to win the game over the Big 10 Badgers in regulation.
Ex-Bengal Quarterbacks Make Good Coaches
In case you hadn't noticed, two former Idaho State quarterbacks were the head coaches in Friday night's 5A State championship game in Holt Arena. Gino Mariani, of course, coached the HIghland Rams to a state title over Paul Peterson's Eagle squad. Both Mariani and Peterson played under Jim Koetter, former Bengal head coach who won a state title or two of his own at both Pocatello and Highland high schools. Other former Bengals who have coached Idaho state champions include both of Koetter's sons, Brent and Dirk.
On to Basketball
If there was any doubt what a stepchild the Boise State basketball program has become, you only needed to be at Taco Bell Arena Saturday night for the Idaho State-BSU men's basketball game. The listed attendance was 2,100, but it seemed a lot emptier than that. Granted, it was a rainy, snowy night and most Bronco fans were probably at home glued to their television sets, watching the end of the BSU win over Nevada in football.
But BSU rarely fills Taco Bell Arena to half full under even the best of circumstances. The Broncos won 25 games last year and a WAC title, they have a wonderful facility and, under Greg Graham, they play an entertaining uptempo style. But it's not football and Boise is nothing if not a football town these days.
The Bengals tried to provide some extra drama Saturday night, coming back from an 11-point deficit to force two overtimes, and even taking a 3-point lead in the second OT. But ISU simply did not have a defensive answer down low to Boise State's two big men, Mark Sanchez and Kurt Cunningham. And, aside from the terrific effort by Amorrow Morgan, the Bengals had very few offensive answers all night long.
Bengal Coach Joe O'Brien promised a shakeup in the starting lineup for Tuesday's game with Long Beach State, and he said Saturday one will involve the insertion of Deividas Busma into the lineup in the place of Lucas Steijn up front. The other opening will likely be created by the benching of Donnie Carson who, Coach OB said on our post-game show, is simply not playing with the fire or energy he displayed at the end of last season. Perhaps coming off the bench will give Carson the mental boost he needs. Another Bengal veteran, Matt Stucki, has also struggled early. He's shooting only 35 percent from the field and just seems totally out of synch on the floor.
It doesn't take a mathmetician to understand Idaho State's early season offensive problems. The Bengals' key outside shooters -- Stucki, Kal Bay, Austin Kilpatrick and Carson -- are shooting a combined 17 for 77 -- 22 percent. From three-point range, Stucki, Bay and Kilpatrick are 7 of 30 -- 23 percent. I know the big men missed a ton of five-footers Saturday night, but the Bengal wing players also have to step up their shooting considerably.
Part of the problem may be that O'Brien is still experimenting, looking for the right combination of players in the right situations. So far he's used eight different players at the guard positions, and Kilpatrick, for example, has only played an average of 7 minutes a game (down from 22 a game last year). Kilpatrick is 0 for 11 from the field.
It's understandable that O'Brien wants to see what he has in newcomers like Phyllip Taylor, Michael Lacey, Sherrod Baldwin (who did not see the floor in Boise) and Bay, but at some point he's going to have to give his shooters a chance to settle into a rhythm. Having a deep bench is a good thing, but it also poses some coaching challenges.
Bengal women's coach Seton Sobolewski would love to have O'Brien's challenges. The first-year coach used just seven players in beating Utah State in Logan on Saturday night. Michelle Grohs put up 21 points and 10 rebounds in 39 minutes to lead the Bengals to a 58-43 win. She was one of five Bengals to play at least 29 minutes. The only two subs for Idaho State were freshman Sheila Adams, who played 23 minutes, and Cara Lambert, who got five minutes at the post. The Bengals won despite shooting only 36 percent from the floor. Oana Iacovita had 10 points and 7 rebounds, and Chelsea Pickering had 10 points, five rebounds and five assists. It looks like most Bengal wins are going to be grinders this year, but Sobolewski appears to be getting the most from the limited roster he inherited.