The Boise State dynasty and space force theory
How did Boise State REALLY beat OU and everyone else in their heyday?
There are those who will tell you the 2007 Fiesta Bowl is the greatest game in college football history. As a former Austinite and a Longhorn alumni, I preferred the 2005 Rose Bowl, but the 2007 Fiesta Bowl was certainly right up there.
The game had a lot of amazing ingredients.
The favorite (Oklahoma Sooners by 6.5 points) lost the game to a plucky and previously mostly unknown underdog (the Boise State Broncos). The victory involved a shocking start by the underdog to build a lead (28-10 at one point for the Broncos), a big comeback by the favorite involving an all-time great player (running back Adrian Peterson), a furious final charge by the Broncos, overtime, and multiple trick plays by the underdog to win the game. It was almost like watching a Disney ending to a classic underdog sports movie like “The Longest Yard” or “The Little Giants.”
Boise’s two late trick plays to secure the win were fantastic theater for viewers. First they ran a “hook and ladder” with one receiver lateralling the ball to another running opposite to not only convert a 4th-and-18 but score a touchdown with time expiring.
It was an amazing finish to regulation, but it wasn’t even the ending. Next we had overtime.
The Sooners took the ball first, handed it to Adrian Peterson, and he scored from 25 yards out to make it 42-35 Oklahoma. Boise’s small, scrappy defense looked totally worn down and the promise of a back and forth seemed faint.
The Broncos got the ball next and clawed their way into the end zone from the 25 with an eight-play drive featuring a 4th-and-2 conversion throwing to the tight end on play-action.
Rather than kicking the extra point to make it 42-42 and asking their worn out defense to try and withstand more Adrian Peterson, Boise went for two. To get it, they called the now famous “Statue of Liberty” trick play. Quarterback Jared Zabransky faked a screen pass wide while hiding the ball behind his back where running back Ian Johnson stealthily took it before racing to the opposite pylon for the win.
43-42 Boise State! No more chances for Oklahoma as fortune had favored the bold underdog who played to win.
Then Johnson proposed on the field to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader. You could hardly have scripted a more theatrical finish.
This picture book story of Boise as a scrappy underdog who took it to big bad Oklahoma and overcame them with guile and tricks was great fun, but it made the next few years of college football a bit of a whirlwind.
You see, the Broncos didn’t go away. The 2006 season before the Fiesta Bowl was only the first for head coach Chris Petersen, who was promoted from offensive coordinator. The Broncos had gone 13-0 in 2006 and won the Fiesta Bowl, then they took a step back in 2007 while replacing some of their seniors before ripping off a run of 12-1, 14-0, 12-1, 12-1, 11-2, and 8-4 seasons before Petersen left to be the head coach at Washington and Boise finally petered off.
The most impressive stretch occurred with quarterback Kellen Moore, who took over in 2008. During his four-year run they managed to achieve the following:
-They went 50-3 overall, 29-2 in conference play, and 3-1 in bowl games.
-They won three Western Athletic Conference Championships.
-They won four straight season openers against National programs beating Oregon (twice), Virginia Tech, and Georgia.
-They finished ranked in the top 10 three times and in the top 5 once.
-They had 10 players taken in the NFL draft (excluding Moore who was an undrafted free agent)
College football’s blue blood programs were TERRIFIED of Boise, as were the Bowls and TV folk, hence them drawing fellow G5 underdogs TCU and Utah in three out of their four bowl games during this span. What scared the bigger teams was not their capacity for drawing up trick plays either, when you looked under the hood it became plain Boise State was actually a very good football team with the firepower to beat football’s traditional powers. They proved it every season opener and whenever they’d get the chance in a bowl game.
The question was…how? Relative to their competition in the WAC or MWC, Boise recruited pretty well, but their recruiting rankings totally paled in comparison to those of a Texas, Florida, Alabama, or USC.
In their fantastic run from 2008 to 2011, the Broncos had a lot of continuity in their starting lineup but they also had something else which set them apart from other teams.
They had a space force.