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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.