Steven M. Sipple: History shows a giant can be taken down

2012-09-22T00:30:00Z 2012-09-22T01:47:04Z Steven M. Sipple: History shows a giant can be taken down JournalStar.com

We know them as "guarantee games" or "money games."

You know the drill. The Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) team goes on the road to play a Football Bowl Subdivision program, absorbs a beating and takes home a fat check for its trouble.

Idaho State will collect $600,000 for playing Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The Huskers are prohibitive favorites. You can't help but wonder how unsightly the beat-down might become.

Michigan fans probably had similar thoughts five years ago, when Appalachian State traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a "money game."

Jerry Moore, the Mountaineers' head coach, had another name for it.

"I told our (administration) it is not a money game," he said. "It is an opportunity game."

An opportunity to shock the college football world.

An opportunity to show other FCS programs the little guy can slay a monster program such as Michigan.

"Everybody here still talks about it," Moore said of Appalachian State's 34-32 triumph against then-fifth-ranked Michigan on Sept. 1, 2007, before 110,000 fans at the Big House.

Idaho State (1-1) isn't even close to the caliber of the 2007 Appalachian State team; the Bengals are 5-40 over the last four years and have dropped 33 straight road games. The Mountaineers, on the other hand, were coming off back-to-back FCS national titles when they squared off against Lloyd Carr's squad.

So, maybe it would be a stretch — and a bit cliche — for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini to reference Appalachian State's upset as he addresses his team in the hours leading to Saturday's contest.

Then again. …

It wasn't like Appalachian State was on par with Michigan in terms of overall talent. In fact, Moore said, the Mountaineers used only 27 players on offense and defense that day (out of 80-some who made the trip) because Moore believed only those 27 were capable of matching up against the Wolverines.

Lo and behold, it was Michigan that was tiring in the second half, Moore said.

Appalachian State practiced in miserably hot weather during preseason camp, Moore said, and it was blazing hot that day at the Big House.

"You know, fear is a great motivator," said the 73-year-old Moore, a former Husker assistant (1973-78). "We were in as good a condition going into the Michigan game as we could've possibly been. We were glad it was hot."

Appalachian State emphasized special teams throughout preseason camp, then blocked two field goals against Michigan — including Corey Lynch's block of a 37-yard field-goal attempt on the game's final play.

"There's no telling how many balls Corey Lynch had blocked in practice," Moore said.

Appalachian State, located in Boone, N.C. (pop. 15,000), suddenly was the hottest story going.

Fast forward to Saturday. Idaho State would become a national phenomenon with an upset of tradition-rich Nebraska.

The Bengals can daydream of fans swarming the team buses as they drive into Pocatello, Idaho, as was the scene in 2007 when the Mountaineers pulled into Boone in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Hundreds of students ran alongside the slow-moving buses.

"They were rocking that bus," Moore recalled. "It was a great experience for all of us. It's been great for our school, great for our town, great for all of the Appalachian State alums and people who just support us."

Appalachian State's enrollment skyrocketed. Thousands of applicants had to be turned away, such was the sudden interest.

Walk into Moore's office and you'll see a series of framed photos, including one showing Lynch's block. You can make out the gold "M" on the football.

"Right below that picture is one of Corey running with that ball down the Michigan sideline and the whole crowd — it's just a sea of yellow — (has) both hands up on the side of their heads," Moore said.

Yeah, unbelievable.

No way Idaho State can pull off a similar shocker, right?

No way the Bengals' pass-happy spread offense can generate enough steam.

No way their undersized defense — the line averages a mere 250 pounds per man — can slow down Nebraska's high-powered offense.

Nebraska has too much tradition, too many resources, to allow Idaho State to make a name for itself at the Huskers' expense.

Can't happen, right?

Oh, it can happen. It does happen.

FCS teams this season already have nine wins against FBS squads, including Youngstown State over Pitt and Sacramento State over Colorado.

But Idaho State over Nebraska?

Nah. Huskers 59, Bengals 10.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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