By Chadd Cripe
© 2011 Idaho Statesman
LAS VEGAS — The Boise State football team arrived here Sunday and will hold its first on-site practice this afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Broncos practiced in Boise on Sunday before they left. They are following a similar practice schedule to last year, when they overcame a sluggish start and some sloppy play on offense to beat Utah 26-3.
“First and foremost we’re going back there to play a game, to do our best to try to win a game,” coach Chris Petersen said in Boise. “… It’s a fine line. We definitely want these kids to enjoy it. They had fun down there (last year) without question. It takes some maturity to do this thing right.”
The Broncos haven’t practiced much the past two weeks because the coaches were on the road recruiting, the players were taking finals and it’s a time for the team to take a break from the season’s grind. They held a walk-through on Wednesday and practiced Thursday and Friday before digging into the game plan Sunday.
They’re hoping for a cleaner performance than last year.
“I thought we played good, not great,” Petersen said of the Utah game. “I thought we played really well on defense but on offense, it’s that same old thing — offenses just lose a little bit of timing and rhythm. We’re going in to score and the ball comes out (Austin Pettis fumble) and we lose a touchdown there. Another one, Titus (Young) in the end zone, it’s very questionable whether he caught it or not. There were probably 21 points we had chances to make and we just didn’t.”
Offense coordinator Brent Pease said Petersen has been “magical” at studying practice and determining when he needs to give the players a break and when he needs to crank up the intensity.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors that have been through this,” Pease said. “Through four years of their careers, they’ve done nothing but always prepare and be ready. … I’m sure that’s what they’ll continue to do.”
The MAACO Bowl is the final game for Boise State’s 21 seniors. They won’t have their families on the field like Senior Day, but they will have a better understanding that their careers have reached the end. Many of them graduated Friday.
“You’ll probably take a little bit more time to gaze or just kind of soak it in a little bit more,” quarterback Kellen Moore said.
Tailback Doug Martin, asked about Moore’s competitiveness, told a story of a handball game the Broncos played recently for conditioning.
“He D’d me up the last minute of the game,” Martin said. “… I don’t know how he did it.”
The Broncos will play without junior linebacker Tommy Smith, a player whose versatility makes it difficult to replace him.
Smith, who has a broken leg, rotated into games at middle linebacker and fullback and was a core performer on special teams.
“Losing Tommy’s been pretty hard on our defense,” starting middle linebacker Byron Hout said. “There are so many spots that we’re going to have to fill. … You can’t really replace Tommy.”
Said special teams coach Jeff Choate: “We have to rep some guys who haven’t had a lot of experience. That’s always scary going into a game like this.”
Arizona State has three touchdowns on kick returns this season.
Junior Michael Frisina likely will be the starting kicker for the bowl game but he’ll have to prove it in practice after missing a 23-yard field goal in the regular-season finale against New Mexico. He was benched in favor of redshirt freshman Dan Goodale, who was the kicker to start the season.
Combined, they are 6-of-9 on field goals and 63-of-71 on PATs.
“Michael has kind of been streaky all year,” Choate said. “It was just discouraging to see him miss that short field goal and it was good to send a message: ‘Don’t get too comfortable.’ ”
(Strange note I spotted today: Boise State has made a higher percentage of its PATs this year, 88.7, than its opponents, 84.0. That’s an ugly kicking year.)
Arizona State wide receiver Gerell Robinson says the Sun Devils will be ready for Thursday’s game, despite the distraction of losing and gaining a coach since the regular season ended.
Here is my story in today’s paper.