Players and coaches on the Boise State sideline jumped wildly into the Georgia Dome air and slapped high fives moments after junior Chris Potter returned a punt 49 yards midway through the third quarter. Yet one player, number 11, stood stoically in the middle of the screaming scrum, stone-faced, eyes looking straight ahead and oblivious to the fact that the Broncos were on their way to beating what may be their highest-ranked opponent of the season. But that is quintessential Kellen Moore, perhaps the most unassuming quarterback in the nation—and definitely one of the best.
The 6-foot, 191-pound Moore may not be able to throw a football through a car wash the way his more heralded peers can, but last Saturday night in Atlanta the fifth-year senior picked apart the Georgia defense with startling precision, completing 28 of 34 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns in fifth-ranked Boise State's 35--21 win over the No. 19 Bulldogs. It was the first time that the Broncos had beaten an SEC team in five attempts, and the win virtually guaranteed two things: that Boise State will once again be in the national championship discussion deep into the autumn, and that the calls for Georgia coach Mark Richt's firing will grow ever louder in Athens.
In 2010, Richt had his first losing season at Georgia (6--7) in his 10 years at the school, and the Bulldogs' biggest weakness against the Broncos was the same fatal flaw it had last season: inept offensive line play. Georgia, which was 10th in the SEC in rushing yards and seventh in sacks allowed per game last year, ran for 137 yards (just 57 after you remove an 80-yard run by cornerback and return man Brandon Boykin) and gave up six sacks of quarterback Aaron Murray. If Richt has any coaching magic left, he'd better unleash it this week, because Georgia faces SEC East favorite South Carolina on Saturday in Athens. Says Richt, "We've got to get our minds right."
That's one problem that Boise State coach Chris Petersen clearly doesn't have. Though the Broncos lost receivers Titus Young and Austin Pettis to the NFL and played the opener without promising starter Geraldo Boldewijn, who was being held out because of eligibility concerns, capable replacements have stepped forward. Against Georgia the duo of Matt Miller and Mitch Burroughs combined to catch 10 passes for 100 yards and seemingly broke free from coverage at will. "Georgia has a ton of great athletes all over the field, and we were able to play pretty well with them," says Miller, a redshirt freshman. "That just shows how we've gotten some big-time recruits in recent years."
One of the least-heralded recruits on the Boise State roster is Moore. Growing up in Prosser, Wash., as the son of a high school coach, Moore received scholarship offers from only Boise, Idaho and Eastern Washington. He was so unsure of his talent that he called then offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin shortly after he committed and questioned whether or not he was good enough to ever play. Since arriving on campus, all Moore has done is go 38--2 as a starter, lead Boise to a BCS bowl victory over TCU and emerge as a serious Heisman contender.
With Moore piloting the offense, the Broncos' path to an undefeated regular season already looks remarkably clear, much to the chagrin of those Boise-bashers in SEC and Big Ten country, where a one-loss conference champion could conceivably be shut out of the BCS championship game if the Broncos were to run the table. What teams will have the best shot of taking down America's darlings? Maybe scrappy Air Force, which visits Boise on Oct. 22. Or perhaps reigning Rose Bowl champion TCU, which must first shore up its defensive issues (the Frogs lost 50--48 at Baylor last Friday) before traveling to the heart of Idaho on Nov. 12. Or possibly quietly good San Diego State, which hosts Boise the following week. Like it or not, the Broncos will be heavily favored in every remaining contest, and the slate could end up being a key ingredient in the recipe that lands them in New Orleans on Jan. 9 for the BCS title game.
"Kellen is the key to what we do, and it just amazes me how he's always so calm," senior center Thomas Byrd said as he watched Moore, on a podium, accept the leather-helmet trophy that went to the winning team. "In the huddle he makes us all feel at ease."
Byrd then smiled and pointed up at Moore. The center could hardly believe it. His quarterback, for the first time all night, was giggling and putting his arm around his coach. And make no mistake: This won't be the last Saturday this season that Moore & Co. enjoy a long and hearty last laugh.
FIVE WORTH WATCHING
Here are the games and the names that fans should keep an eye on in Week 2
ALABAMA at PENN STATE
What we've learned about the Tide: The D may be more dominating than the 2009 national- championship-winning unit; Alabama limited Kent State to 90 yards and six first downs in a 48--7 win.
What we've learned about the Nittany Lions: Neither quarterback Rob Bolden (left) nor Matt McGloin stood out in a 41--7 win over Indiana State, so coach Joe Paterno will play both.
What it all means on Saturday: If Alabama can score 17 points, the Tide, which beat Penn State 24--3 last year, should win ... by two TDs. That's how scary-good the D is.
SOUTH CAROLINA at GEORGIA
What we've learned about the Gamecocks: Stephen Garcia (six TDs off the bench in a little more than two quarters in SC's 56--37 win) is the team's most important player.
What we've learned about the Bulldogs: Aaron Murray may be the SEC's most talented QB, but he won't survive the year if he keeps taking beatings the way he did in the loss to Boise State.
What it all means on Saturday: The matchup between the SEC East's top two teams will be decided by the right arm of Garcia, who can look like an All-America one play and a fourth-stringer the next.
NOTRE DAME at MICHIGAN
What we've learned about the Irish: Notre Dame looked sloppier (five turnovers, eight penalties) than any other Top 25 team in its 23--20 loss to South Florida.
What we've learned about the Wolverines: When asked how he felt about his defense, which gave up 199 yards in the first half of the 34--10 win over Western Michigan, new coach Brady Hoke said flatly, "Not very good."
What it all means on Saturday: If Notre Dame can get serviceable quarterback play, then the Irish, with their superior talent, should prevail in the first night game ever in the Big House.
BYU at TEXAS
What we've learned about the Cougars: BYU has a stout run defense. The Cougars limited Ole Miss—a power running team with giants on the O-line—to 64 yards on 29 carries in BYU's 14--13 comeback win.
What we've learned about the Longhorns: The offense is still a work-in-progress. In their 34--9 win over Rice, the Longhorns didn't take control until the third quarter.
What it all means on Saturday: This is a measuring-stick game for both teams—one that will likely hinge on which offense can most quickly get into a rhythm and sustain it. That offense? Texas's.
UTAH at USC
What we've learned about the Utes: The passing game is "abysmal," coach Kyle Whittingham said after Jordan Wynn threw for just 101 yards in a 27--10 win over Montana State.
What we've learned about the Trojans: Sophomore receiver Robert Woods is the next big thing on a roster short of playmakers. He caught a school-record 17 passes for 177 yards and three TDs in a surprisingly close 19--17 win over Minnesota.
What it all means on Saturday: If USC pass-catchers can hold on to the ball—they had eight drops on Saturday—the Trojans win by double digits.
BOB ROSATO (SHOEMAKER)
STAMPEDE A three-yard pass from Moore (far left) to Tyler Shoemaker (above) gave Boise a 21-point lead in a game that may prove to be its toughest all season.
[See caption above]
GENE J. PUSKAR/AP