BOISE — Oregon transfer Cyrus Habibi-Likio was running the decks of Albertsons Stadium for the first time as part of a conditioning workout over the summer when he took notice of one of his teammates.
“I remember I was at the top and tired — I had never done anything like it — but I remember seeing Riley Whimpey just staring down at the blue,” Habibi-Likio recalled this week. “Maybe he was catching his breath or something, but he just kept looking down at it, and I noticed him. He’d get this second wind every time he would stare down at it.”
Habibi-Likio suddenly realized what it meant to ‘defend The Blue’.
Boise State will look to do just that Saturday at 7 p.m. when it hosts Oklahoma State of the Big 12 on FOX Sports 1. A sellout crowd is expected for one of the most anticipated games in the history of Albertsons Stadium.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Boise State linebacker Ezekiel Noa said. “It’s a great opponent coming into our house and playing on The Blue can be our advantage with the fans.
“We know who we’re playing and we have to be prepared for that. Oklahoma State is a great team and we’re excited for this challenge to see where we’re at.”
Boise State’s program has been built the past two-plus decades around a ‘blue collar’ work ethic associated with the blue turf. The Broncos were the first to play on a non-green field and have embraced it.
To some it’s seen as a gimmick. To the Broncos, it’s a way of life. Just ask guys like Whimpey, who pour blood, sweat and tears onto the blue turf for eight months each offseason training for a new year.
Habibi-Likio saw that come to fruition last Friday when a near-capacity crowd of 35,518 fans watched Boise State pummel UTEP, 54-13. What he saw in the summer came true on game day.
“I now know how special it is to defend the blue,” Habibi-Likio said. “I feel like it’s a really big advantage.”
Boise State is 123-10 inside Albertsons Stadium since the start of the 2000 season. The Broncos have a higher home winning percentage than any other team in the country during that span.
That dominance will be put to the test Saturday when the Broncos welcome a Big 12 team to The Blue for the first time in regular season history. A potential record crowd is expected.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for Bronco Nation and the Valley to be able to get games like this in our stadium,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “The type of opponent, the history, the tradition, the players they’ve had go through the program and obviously a coach that has been very, very consistent for some time now.
“We have a great challenge in front of us. We know our fan base, these are the types of games that excite them, so to be able to have one here in Boise is an unbelievable opportunity.”
Boise State has held its own against teams from the Power 5 over the years and is 16-10 against them since 2006. Included is the famous 2007 Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma and wins against Oregon, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Washington and Florida State.
But the Broncos are just 2-5 in their last seven games against the Power 5 with blowout losses to Washington, Oklahoma State, Virginia and Baylor.
The Broncos get a second shot at Oklahoma State after suffering a 44-21 loss on the road in Stillwater during the 2018 season. This is the return game of the two-game series scheduled way back in 2013.
Boise State always plays with something to prove against Power 5 teams. Throw in rumors of Big 12 expansion and the Broncos being a potential candidate to join the league down the road and the chip on players’ shoulders has likely never been bigger.
“This is a huge opportunity for us,” corner Markel Reed said. “We look at it as food on the plate and we’re going to eat up. We’re going to go out there and do our thing and show that we can play with the best in the country.”
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier was recruited by a lot of Power 5 teams before committing to Boise State. He’s already beaten one in Florida State — and he’ll have a chance to take down another on Saturday.
“I’m super excited,” Bachmeier said. “I think it is the reason why a lot of us came here, to play in big games like this out on The Blue. I’m super excited to do it in front of the fans. I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
Wide receivers coach Matt Miller played in plenty of big games on The Blue. He knows the rarity of a Big 12 team coming to Boise will make it a memorable night for all.
“This week there’s been a lot of anticipation and a lot of excitement,” Miller said. “A lot of energy around town and that’s going to be a great environment for our guys to be playing in. ... It’s going to be the loudest noise you’ve ever heard in your entire life so relish it, embrace it and go out there and cut it loose and have some fun.”
Oklahoma State is 2-0 but has less-than-impressive wins against Missouri State and Tulsa. The Cowboys have struggled running the ball (2.68 yards per carry is 119th nationally) and quarterback Spencer Sanders passed for just 173 yards and tossed an interception in his first game against Tulsa after missing the Missouri State game due to being in COVID-19 protocol.
But there’s still plenty to be concerned about with the Cowboys. Big 12 teams typically have more speed at the skill positions and are bigger along the offensive and defensive lines than Boise State.
Oklahoma State blocked two punts and dominated the Broncos in the 23-point loss four years ago.
“I remember playing a really tough team, big physical strong guys that can do it all,” fifth-year senior Kekaula Kaniho said. “We’re looking forward to the competition. We know it’s a different team than the one in 2018, but it’s still a great challenge for us.”
But the big difference from 2018? This game is on The Blue.
Fans are asked to wear blue to create a ‘Blue Out’ in the stands, and Boise State will wear their famed all-blue uniforms. Limited tickets remained as of Friday afternoon but the game is expected to reach a capacity crowd by kick off.
It’s a game many have had circled for years. And while it figures to be tougher than many of the games played here the past 20-plus years, the objective remains the same: defend The Blue.
“It means everything,” Kaniho said. “We take a lot of pride in defending The Blue and not losing on The Blue and really taking it to them and defending our home turf because it’s a place that’s special not only to us but to a lot of guys that came through this program.”