Boise State football coach Houston Nutt was driving to work last week when a nearby motorist motioned for him to roll down his window at a stoplight.
“You know what I want you to do?” the driver said.
Nutt, in fact, did know. “Let me guess. You want me to beat Idaho.”
That could never happen to Idaho coach Chris Tormey. “I don’t hit any stoplights coming to work,” he joked.
But Tormey knows what it’s like to beat Boise State. He’s 2-0 against the Broncos and tries for his third straight tonight at 5:06 in the Kibbie Dome. Nutt is new to the rivalry, but the first-year BSU coach already has felt the power of the game’s hype and anticipation.
“I knew it was big when I first got the job,” Nutt said. “All the billboards around town said: ‘Congratulations Coach Nutt.’ And right below it was, ‘Beat Idaho.”’
To do so, Nutt’s Broncos need to continue their quality play of late and put a lid on Idaho’s potent passing game. UI’s Brian Brennan passed for 314 yards in last week’s win over New Mexico State.
“We can’t let him go up and down the field with (receiver Antonio) Wilson,” Nutt said.
Even doing that might not be enough, if last year’s game is an indication. Wilson had just one reception and Idaho attempted only 24 passes, but the Vandals ran for 365 yards and romped 64-19.
“It’ll be different this year,” said Wilson, who was held to one catch by Eastern Washington three weeks ago. “Since it’s my last game, I expect to go out with a bang.”
Last year’s lopsided outcome hasn’t escaped BSU’s memory.
“They came in and beat us and were pretty much laughing in our faces,” BSU defensive tackle Bobby Setzer said. “We pretty much feed off of that and there’s a lot of energy going on.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever over looked them,” Brennan said. “We have to play our game and not make any big mistakes.”
Oddsmakers list Idaho as a 10-point favorite, but several factors suggest the result might be closer. BSU’s offense has been rolling since freshman Bart Hendricks took over at quarterback when Nate Sparks was injured.
Hendricks’ numbers completion percentage of 52.1, five touchdowns and seven interceptions aren’t overwhelming, but BSU has been productive. Hendricks, a native of Reno, had his poise tested against Nevada on Nov. 8. He responded with 287 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Sparks, meanwhile, might see some snaps at wide receiver. Trick play, anyone?
Tormey pinpointed the trenches as key to the contest. “Their offensive line is big and physical, much like Utah State and Nevada,” he said. “We’ve got to slow down their running game. On the other side, we have to open some holes and protect our quarterback.”
Coaches need only worry about X’s and O’s this week. Emotional speeches aren’t necessary.
“Everybody understands the importance,” Tormey said. “A friend of mine told me the other day, ‘Just thank God you’re in the situation you’re in. Ninety-five percent of the population wakes up bored to tears on Wednesday morning. You’re going to be nervous all week.”’
That was Craig Juntenen, a former UI co-captain who played with Tormey in the mid-1970s. Since Juntenen was busy running a business in California, he couldn’t wave to Tormey at a stoplight. So, he telephoned.
Concluded Tormey: “It should be a great, great game.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Vandals vs. Boise State