Boise State does it again on big stage
ATLANTA -- The last time Boise State ventured this far South, the Broncos were embarrassed in a 48-13 loss to Georgia in the 2005 opener.
In fact, former Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky, who threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles in the first half of that game, almost received a louder ovation from the pro-UGA crowd than 1980 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker did before Saturday night's rematch in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome.
While the distance between Athens, Ga., and Boise, Idaho, might be more than 2,200 miles, the Broncos showed once again that they've narrowed the gap on the sport's heavyweights.
The No. 5 Broncos blasted the No. 19 Bulldogs 35-21 in front of a red-clad crowd of 73,614 fans, putting Boise State right back into the position of potential BCS buster.
If Boise State can manhandle a team that is considered an SEC East contender and even a potential BCS title sleeper, which now looks like quite a stretch, who's to say it couldn't do it against No. 1 Oklahoma or No. 2 Alabama for four quarters on any given night?
The question has never been about whether Boise State could beat a highly ranked opponent in one game. It's always been about whether the Broncos could do it multiple times over the course of a 12-game regular season.
Even after the Broncos moved from the WAC to the Mountain West this season, their schedule will be dissected and criticized over the next three months. Defending MWC champion TCU, the reigning Rose Bowl champions, lost 50-48 at Baylor Friday night. The No. 14 Horned Frogs and Bulldogs were the only Boise State opponents ranked in the preseason.
It's hard to say how much credit the Broncos will really get for beating Georgia, even if it was essentially a true road game. The Bulldogs are coming off a 6-7 finish in 2010, which ended with an ugly 10-6 loss to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl.
Frankly, the Bulldogs didn't look much different, aside from their Power Ranger-like jerseys and helmets. They committed untimely penalties and couldn't run the ball effectively.
So while the rest of the country argues about whether the Boise State bus is worthy of parking in New Orleans in early January, the Broncos can only keep doing what they've done over the last five years -- win lots of games.
"It means a lot to us," said Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who led his team to a victory for the 39th time in its last 41 games. "We have tremendous respect for the [SEC] and UGA. Last time we were down here, it wasn't even a game."
It wasn't much of a game this time, either, once Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore got warmed up. After Georgia scored the game's opening touchdown on cornerback Brandon Boykin's 80-yard run on offense, the Broncos scored the next 28 points.
After taking a 14-7 lead at the half, the Broncos opened the second half with a 76-yard scoring drive, which tailback Doug Martin finished with a seven-yard touchdown run to make it 21-7. Georgia's offense tried to make it a game with two late touchdowns, but the Bulldogs couldn't keep the Broncos' offense off the field or out of the end zone.
Moore, who improved his record to 39-2 as Boise State's starting quarterback, completed 28 of 34 passes for 261 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The Heisman Trophy candidate was as good as advertised once again.
"He's a very good player," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He knows where to go. They protected him well. We didn't get enough pressure on him. But when you run and pass well, it's hard to get that rush."
Georgia's 3-4 defense, which was supposed to be more potent this season, couldn't get pressure on Moore and rarely forced him to throw early. Even without departed receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young, who will play in the NFL this season, Moore was as precise as a surgeon. He completed passes to nine players and basically took advantage of whatever the Bulldogs were willing to give him.
"He throws the ball so quick," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "There were a lot of quick passes. They're a West Coast-type offense. They're a three-step [drop] team and a play-action team."
More than anything else, though, the Broncos proved they're a really physical team against the Bulldogs. Boise State dominated both lines of scrimmage. The Broncos protected Moore like he was royalty -- he wasn't sacked by a defense that is supposed to be predicated on pressure -- and constantly harassed Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
Murray completed 16 of 29 attempts for 236 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, but most of his damage came late in the game. He was sacked six times and hurried when he wasn't.
"They're good up front," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "They're very talented. They do a good job on first down, which allows them to pin their ears back on third down. They're all seniors and they've played together forever. They're physical and they play hard. We had a lot of good stuff. We just couldn't get into it because we couldn't get going."
Outside of Boykin's long scoring run, Georgia ran for only 57 yards on 31 attempts.
"We want to be relentless," Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin said. "I think we were over the course of the game, just never giving up and always attacking."
Chances are the Broncos won't play another ranked opponent until at least Nov. 12, and that's only if TCU drastically improves its defense and special teams. The Broncos know they won't get much credit for beating opponents such as Toledo, Tulsa and Colorado State.
"I think this was really important for the program," McClellin said. "Not a lot of teams give us props. That's just the way we like it. We like being the underdog."
The Broncos aren't as much of an underdog as they once were.
"I love playing early in the season in games like this," Boise State linebacker Byron Hout said. "It sets the tone for the rest of the season. It's a taste of what a big bowl game can be like with this type of atmosphere. If you do the right thing, you can find yourself in another event like this at the end of the season.
If the Broncos' chips fall right, their season might end in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.