ATLANTA — As Boise State celebrated yet another opening victory over a marquee opponent, a blue-clad fan wandered through the mostly empty stands at the Georgia Dome, screaming to no one in particular.
“Too small! Not fast enough! Not talented enough! Can’t hang with the big boys!”
Kellen Moore and those BCS Busters from Boise State are off and running again, coming into the heart of mighty SEC country to beat up Georgia.
Moore threw for three touchdowns — giving him 102 in his career — and the No. 5 Broncos romped past the 19th-ranked Bulldogs 35-21 Saturday night, boosting their hopes of making another run to a major bowl while dealing a huge blow to embattled Georgia coach Mark Richt.
“I had a gut feeling it would go pretty well,” said senior Doug Martin, who ran for a touchdown. “This game definitely has given momentum to our season.”
That’s nothing new.
In the last three seasons, Boise State has started the season with victories against Oregon, Virginia Tech and now Georgia.
“We’ve got some good players who have played a lot of football,” Broncos coach Chris Petersen said. “They like to play on these stages. In some ways, that helps us. They don’t get to play on this stage every day. They appreciate playing against a program like Georgia. They really do.”
No one enjoyed himself more than Moore.
The nation’s top-rated passer last season and expected to be a leading Heisman contender, he carved up Georgia’s 3-4 defense after a sluggish start. Moore completed 28 of 34 for 261 yards, with his first scoring pass — a 17-yarder to freshman Matt Miller — giving him 100 for his brilliant career.
He had two more before the night was done to lead the Broncos (1-0) to their first win ever over a Southeastern Conference team.
“Growing up watching football, I have a ton of respect for the SEC,” Moore said. “I’m aware of all the success they’ve had. I watched Georgia play a lot of big games growing up. To play a game like this was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. We were fortunate to come out on top.”
After a 12-yard scoring pass to Kyle Efaw gave Boise a 14-7 lead at halftime, Moore got the ball back on the first possession of the second half and directed a drive that broke Georgia’s back. Completing seven straight passes covering 69 yards, he set up Martin’s 7-yard touchdown run that put the Broncos up 21-7.
Then, late in the third quarter, a big punt return helped finish off the Bulldogs. Chris Potter brought it back 49 yards to the Georgia 28, a facemask penalty gave Boise State another first down and Moore threaded a 3-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Tyler Shoemaker for a three-touchdown lead.
The red-clad Bulldog fans began heading for the exits, leaving the celebration to a small contingent in blue that made the long trip from Idaho. They gathered above the tunnel leading to the Broncos locker room, serenading their team with chants of “Boise State! Boise State!”
The Broncos came in with an 0-4 record against SEC teams, including an ugly 48-13 loss at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium back in 2005.
“This means a lot to us,” Petersen said. “The last time we came down here, it wasn’t even a game. With the history of this program, to come here and play well is something these kids can be very proud of.”
Of course, what happened in the past has little to do with where these teams are today.
Boise State and Georgia have gone in dramatically opposite directions since that ’05 season, when the Bulldogs went on to claim their second SEC title in Richt’s first five years. They haven’t won another, dropping to 6-7 a year ago for their first losing season since 1996. If the 11th-year coach can’t turn things around quickly — and this wasn’t a good start — his job could be in jeopardy.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Richt said. “But SEC play hasn’t even started. It’s a long season. We’ve got to get our minds right. A game like this, no question, we know more about our football team than if we played someone and beat them by 40. Hopefully that translates into us learning how to play better in these type of games and better see where our weaknesses are.”
There’s no time to sulk. Next week, the Bulldogs (0-1) open conference play with another crucial game against No. 12 South Carolina, the defending SEC East champion.
The Broncos, meanwhile, have outgrown being America’s Cinderella team, qualifying for major bowls two of the last five years even while playing in the lightly regarded Western Athletic Conference. They joined the Mountain West this season but know they still have no room for error if they want to be playing with the big boys in January.
No problem in this one.
Georgia’s Aaron Murray put up a couple of long touchdown passes in the second half — one after a punt was nullified by an offsides penalty. But it wasn’t nearly enough against Moore and his seasoned team, even with the Broncos missing a couple of foreign-born starters who didn’t make the trip because the NCAA was reviewing their eligibility.
Both teams started sluggishly, slipping and sliding on a field with which neither was familiar. Georgia was called for three penalties on its first possession, then went three-and-out on its second. Finally, the Bulldogs broke loose with a play that Boise State couldn’t have seen coming.
Brandon Boykin, a cornerback and returner for the Bulldogs, checked in for the offense. He took a handoff coming around right end, got a couple of good blocks and was gone — 80 yards for a touchdown on the first carry of the junior’s career.
That huge play roused a red-clad crowd that left little doubt this was no neutral-site game.
The Broncos traveled across the country for the second year in a row to play in an NFL stadium not far from the campus of their opponent. Last season, they opened with a victory over Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., home of the Washington Redskins. This time, they agreed to play at the Georgia Dome, normally the home of the Atlanta Falcons but only 75 miles from the Bulldogs’ campus.
Used to bucking the odds, the Broncos took a little time to get going, then seemed to figure out a defense that was expected to carry Georgia in the early going while the team breaks in a new group of receivers — A.J. Green is now in the NFL — and touted freshman Isaiah Crowell at running back.
Crowell showed a few flashes of his potential but wasn’t much of a factor, finishing with 60 yards on 15 carries. Murray took quite a beating at quarterback and, appropriately enough, took the last of his six sacks on Georgia’s final offensive play. He went 16 of 29 for 236 yards, including touchdowns of 36 yards to Orson Charles and 51 yards to another freshman, Malcolm Mitchell.
All those did was make the final score a little more respectable.
There was no doubt about the better team.
“I think it shows what type of team we are,” receiver Mitch Burroughs said. “Not a lot of talk. We just play our game.”