LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t the bowl Boise State wanted to be in, and for the better part of the first half Wednesday night, the Broncos played as if they were thinking about the one that got away.
Then Doug Martin raced 84 yards up the middle, and suddenly the MAACO Bowl didn’t look so bad after all.
Martin shook Boise State out of its brief postseason funk with his long touchdown run midway through the second quarter, and the 10th-ranked Broncos dominated the rest of the way to beat No. 20 Utah 26-3.
“It was a startup for our team,” Martin said. “A momentum changer.”
The victory was small consolation for Boise State, which missed out on a possible Rose Bowl appearance on two missed field goals last month at Nevada. But the dominating win against a team that was at one time ranked No. 6 in the country was a reminder why the Broncos rode high in the polls before suffering their only loss in two years.
It may also be a reminder for next year’s poll voters not to write off a team that won every game over the last two years except the one that mattered. The loss to Nevada not only cost the school millions of dollars in a BCS bowl bid, but some of the grudging respect others had finally given Boise State.
Count Utah coach Kyle Whittingham among the believers.
“This is a team that was the top-ranked team that was setting itself up for a run at the national championship,” Whittingham said. “If they beat Reno (Nevada) and if Auburn or Oregon stumble, they’re in that game.”
Neither of those things happened, forcing Boise State to go begging for a decent bowl bid despite its gaudy record. The Broncos landed in this gambling city, where the bookies quickly established them as 17-point favorites to beat a Utah team that also had its BCS dream dashed late in the season.
But Boise State came out flat and seemed disinterested. Kellen Moore fumbled on the third play of the game and the Broncos turned the ball over three times to help Utah to a 3-0 lead.
Martin then scampered up the middle and headed down the left sideline on the first play from scrimmage following a Utes punt.
Martin’s run came after a mistake-prone first quarter in which Boise State kept giving the ball away and making costly errors. Utah wasn’t much better, and when the Broncos began finding their stride the game quickly turned one-sided.
Moore, who also threw an interception in the first quarter, rebounded with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Shoemaker in the closing seconds of the first half to give Boise State a 16-3 lead. He added another 18-yard TD pass to Austin Pettis in the third quarter.
Boise State’s defense held Utah to 200 yards, forcing the Utes to punt again and again. The Broncos shut down both the running and passing game and Utah never scored after its opening field goal.
“We had hoped it would end like this because Utah’s a great team,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “If we couldn’t get to a BCS game we wanted to play a team like Utah that’s as good as any team out there.”
Boise State (12-1) was ranked as high as No. 2 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll this year, but early on looked little like the team that was everyone’s favorite BCS buster. That changed with Martin’s run, with the Broncos taking control on both sides of the ball against a team that had won nine straight bowl games.
Moore, who finished fourth in Heisman voting earlier this month, completed 28 of 38 passes, including 12 to Pettis, who was playing the final game of a college career in which his team won 51 of 53 games.
The game was the last for Utah (10-3) before going into the Pac-12 Conference.