Ready to roll
Fun is done; Boise and ECU are ready to play
STORY SUMMARY »
After a week of fun and sun, it's finally time to take care of business.
Hawaii Bowl: East Carolina (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2)
» When: Today, 3 p.m.
» Where: Aloha Stadium
» TV: ESPN
No. 24 Boise State and East Carolina have spent the last six days enjoying the finer aspects of Hawaii, but are glad that game time is finally here.
"We've had some time to interact with (East Carolina) and see how they react to us, but we're ready to play a football game," Boise State running back Ian Johnson said.
Today's Sheraton Hawaii Bowl features two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum.
On one sideline is a program that has become the standard for non-BCS conference teams in terms of success. The Broncos are 68-9 over the last six seasons and have been to a bowl game each year.
Across from them will be a Pirates team that is just four years removed from a 1-11 season. Third-year coach Skip Holtz has East Carolina heading in the right direction and hopes to emulate what the Broncos have accomplished.
"I think this will be a great measuring stick," Holtz said. "Right now what Boise State has accomplished in the last five or six years is where we aspire to be."
The Broncos are double-digit favorites in the game, but won't be taking their counterparts from Conference USA lightly.
"The good thing is our players know what type of team (East Carolina) is," Broncos coach Chris Petersen said. "I think people are underestimating them. We're not."
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Slap on a little Johnson & Johnson to cure what ails you.
The most compelling matchup when No. 24 Boise State and East Carolina line up today at 3 p.m. at Aloha Stadium takes place between their respective all-conference running backs: Ian Johnson and Chris Johnson.
Both are 1,000-yard rushers, both are explosive and both are exceedingly dangerous in the open field.
Ian Johnson, a two-time Western Athletic Conference first-team selection, went for 103 yards per game with 17 total touchdowns for the Broncos (10-2), who are tabbed as 10 1/2-point favorites.
Chris Johnson, the Conference USA special teams player of the year, was tops in NCAA Division I-A with 212.7 all-purpose yards per game -- including 100 rushing -- and accounted for 22 scores for the Pirates (7-5). He's ECU's primary kick returner, and ran one back 96 yards for six points this year.
"It's very impressive what he has been able to do," Ian Johnson said of his counterpart. "All I can say is our defense has got a good little challenge on their hands, but I know they're ready for it. In the end, I don't care which Johnson wins as long as our team wins and theirs doesn't."
"You know, I think they're both great backs," ECU coach Skip Holtz said. "I think it's hard 'til you see somebody live to really say. I watched Ian Johnson on film -- he's tough, he's durable, he's physical, he runs hard."
Their prolific runners and balanced offenses might be about where the similarities end -- the teams enter the game from sharply different backgrounds and perspectives. The Broncos have a winning tradition and are looking to get a measure of redemption in Honolulu after closing the WAC season with a loss to the Warriors. Hawaii duplicated Boise State's feat of going undefeated from a year before and cracked into the BCS at the Broncos' expense.
BSU is fifth in the nation in scoring offense at over 42 points per game, and allows just 20 defensively.
"Everyone is talking about the Broncos, but (East Carolina) is the most talented team we have seen all year," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "These guys are a good football team. They played a heck of a schedule."
East Carolina is searching for its first bowl victory under Holtz, a third-year coach who guided the Pirates to their first postseason game in five years in 2006. After inheriting a team that lost 22 of 25 games, Holtz has brought respectability to the Greenville, N.C.-based school.
How much, though, remains to be seen. ECU has been tested all year with one of the toughest schedules in the country -- all four of its nonconference foes were from BCS conferences, including games at No. 5 Virginia Tech and No. 9 West Virginia -- but Holtz refers to this game as "a heck of a challenge for us. ... I think it's gonna be a great measuring stick and we talk about that's what we aspire to be."
The teams boast two capable quarterbacks in Broncos senior Taylor Tharp (3,070 yards passing, 28 TD, nine interceptions) and Pirates sophomore Rob Kass (1,128 yards passing, 9 TD, 4 INT), who has started the last seven games.
"We know they're a pressure-oriented defense, and they like to load the box up and try to make the quarterback make decisions," Kass said. "We feel like if we play within the offense and we go out there and execute, it really doesn't matter who we play."
Boise will be without top receiver Jeremy Childs, who didn't make the trip after violating team rules. He had a school-record 82 receptions for 1,045 yards and nine touchdowns. Freshmen Titus Young and Austin Pettis will carry the load instead.