“We’ve only played twice?”
Leave it to Boise State’s legendary quarterback, Kellen Moore, to sum it up best when reflecting on the brief football series with Oregon.
But it’s true — Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl will be just the third meeting between the Broncos and Ducks, the previous meetings having taken place in eventful 2008 and 2009 matchups.
Both of those games represented so much, and so much happened, that it seems the teams have more of a shared history. Perhaps it’s the geography, the simultaneous ascension or the high-powered offenses.
“We made our name winning games like those ones against Oregon,” former Boise State safety Jeron Johnson said. “It comes with the territory. If we beat those teams, they really want to get us the next chance they get.”
Considering the last moment the two teams were on the field together is perhaps the most memorable, we’ll start there in our look back.
2009: THE PUNCH
LeGarrette Blount was frustrated. Byron Hout did not help matters.
After Blount, Oregon’s Herculean running back and 1,000-yard rusher, was held to minus-5 yards at Bronco Stadium in a 19-8 BSU win on Sept. 3, Hout tapped him on the shoulder.
The Boise State linebacker says he made a reference to previous statements Blount had made about owing Boise State a “(butt) whooping.” Blount later said the words were more harsh than that.
So Blount swung and caught Hout in the jaw with a punch as then-Boise State coach Chris Petersen and Hout’s teammates were just feet away.
“I’d never seen anything like that happen before,” defensive tackle Chase Baker said. “In hindsight, that’s a poor reflection of both programs, but I get why people still talk about it.”
Blount was quickly restrained by teammates, and even took a swing at teammate Garrett Embry. While walking off the field, fans shouted at Blount, and he became further enraged.
It took then-Oregon assistant Scott Frost (now the head coach at Nebraska), a Boise police officer and a security guard to get him into the locker room.
“It was shocking how strong Blount was,” said Baker, something apparent during and after the game.
Petersen quickly grabbed Hout, and the Broncos’ then-strength coach, Tim Socha, helped keep the rest of the team back.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Johnson said.
That game was the first for now-UCLA coach Chip Kelly with the Ducks, and he suspended Blount for two months. Hout and Blount had a phone conversation set up by their coaches to bury the hatchet.
Blount, who has enjoyed a fruitful, Super Bowl-winning NFL career and is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, declined recent interview requests to speak about it, but said after the game: “I just apologize to all of our fans and all of Boise’s fans. That’s something I shouldn’t have done. I lost my head.” Hout, now an assistant at Montana State, was not available for an interview this month but he spoke about the incident to the Billings Gazette in January 2016 after being hired.
“I hope that’s not what I’m known for,” he said. “But the whole situation … is just a teaching moment for guys out there to play with sportsmanship and do things the right way on the field.”
Sure, it was a topic in the locker room, and Hout was hardly morose, as teammates said he was among those celebrating loudest. The players moved on quickly.
“The next morning, that’s all that was on TV,” Moore said. “It became a bigger thing than we made it out to be. It wasn’t like Pete had a big team meeting. We knew.”
Baker, who had a team-best 1.5 tackles for loss, said “it took a little light off the victory,” which is true, but what happened in the game’s 60 minutes should be remembered.
Oregon, which averaged 41.9 points per game the year before, had just six first downs and 152 yards of total offense.
“We were ready. … There was a lot of trash talking leading up to it, we were coming off the TCU loss in the (Poinsettia) bowl,” Johnson said. “We just came out on fire. Playing at home, that meant a lot. We wanted to protect the Blue. We weren’t about to let anybody beat us there.”
Kelly went on to win 46 of his next 52 games, but it wasn’t the smoothest start. His predecessor, Mike Bellotti, came down to the sidelines from the suites during the game and spoke to Kelly in clear view of players and fans.
The Broncos didn’t need much from their own high-powered offense, as the defense got a safety and forced a pair of turnovers. Boise State had 361 yards, running 89 plays to Oregon’s 44. But the Broncos didn’t help themselves with three turnovers.
“That was all defense,” Moore said. “We didn’t really do much. It was the defense that shut it down. We just had to manage it, not screw it up.”
2008: MEET MR. MOORE
If that second meeting wasn’t necessarily the offense’s finest hour, the 2008 game allowed some wiggle room.
The 37-32 win introduced the college football world to Boise State’s then-redshirt freshman quarterback. Moore threw for 386 yards at Autzen Stadium to go with three touchdowns in his first road start.
“That was his coming-out party,” Johnson said. “He had some passes where it was like, ‘Kellen’s the real deal.’ ”
It’s hard to imagine now, but Moore had some doubters. He had beaten out senior Bush Hamdan to be the starter, and he was solid against Idaho State and Bowling Green, but Oregon was a massive step up in competition.
“I remember it vividly with Kellen … how much flak he was taking from the fans and how (Oregon) was going to get after him,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, then the team’s offensive coordinator. “At that time, not many teams had come in there and won.”
After two scoreless drives to start the game, the Broncos scored on seven of their next nine possessions.
“It was a really important game,” Moore said. “I’d had one good, one bad game, then we had to play the big boys. Bush was my guy in that game. He kept doing this hand motion like he was a band conductor, just reminding me to play in a rhythm, to stay steady.”
Moore, who wound up 50-3 as a starter, made plenty of tough throws and had that famous moxie, plus a little bit of swagger. Lying on his chest after being hit on a throw to Jeremy Childs on a third down, he fist-pumped, then made the first-down motion.
“It was right on the money, and that fist pump let you know he was feeling it,” Johnson said.
But the game needed some drama, didn’t it?
Ellis Powers was flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty in the first quarter, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was later diagnosed with a concussion. The Broncos built a 37-13 lead, but the Ducks stormed back. Johnson was ejected for a hit on defenseless tight end Ed Dickson just before Oregon’s final score.
“They beat us on a couple touchdowns that were my fault,” Johnson said. “(Defensive backs coach Marcel) Yates chewed me out right before that series. I was going to hit the next thing that came my way. It was a dumb play by me, it could’ve lost us the game. I deserved the penalty, and I probably got ejected because of Ellis’ play.”
It did not cost the Broncos the win, as they recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
“We went on the road and did what everyone doubted we could do,” Johnson said. “It was a big statement. After the game, I’d been ejected, I thought I’d lost my wallet (but found it at the airport), I had mixed emotions. I couldn’t fully appreciate the moment.”
Moore called the game “a starting point for us,” a game that showed the 2006 Fiesta Bowl team was maybe just the beginning of something big. Future standouts such as Moore, Johnson, Baker, Shea McClellin, Billy Winn, Austin Pettis, Titus Young and Doug Martin were freshmen or sophomores who played in the win.
Johnson said “it was a statement to win in such a crazy environment,” as it was Boise State’s first road win at a Power Five school, having lost its first 13 such games.
“We were the Pac-10 rejects. A lot of our guys didn’t have the offers from teams like Oregon we all grew up wanting,” Baker said.
TODAY: A LASTING LEGACY
Baker, who went on to play in the NFL and CFL, said he’s sure the history will be discussed by the Broncos and their coaches this week, but “it won’t be forced down their throats.”
“I’m sure they’re aware,” Baker said. “If nothing else, everything that’s happened, it created a rivalry.”
Some of Boise State’s current players certainly remember the punch and Moore’s breakout game, and they remember the dominant defensive effort in 2009. Two trendy programs, as Moore called them, made for an ideal matchup at the tail end of the last decade.
“It’s been awhile since this program played them. The atmosphere that comes with it, growing up and seeing all the hype … everybody knows about it,” Boise State junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch said. “When I was younger, the BSU-Oregon game was always the one to watch.”
For all the things that happened during and after the games, there is a buzz around Saturday’s game for good reason.
“We’re pretty excited around here to do what we can against a Power Five school, and there’s obviously some history between Oregon and Boise State,” junior quarterback Brett Rypien said.
Moore not only was surprised that this will be just the third meeting, but also that the last clash was eight years ago. That’s a statement of just how memorable the first two were.
“It matters that two teams like this play each other,” Moore said, “and that those are games people remember — all the shenanigans included.”