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Settling into a workable backfield combination

Settling into a workable backfield combination

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant


Posted on October 26, 2012 at 7:17 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 26 at 8:48 AM


Friday, October 26, 2012.

If the elements come into play tomorrow in Laramie, the ability to pound it on the ground will be huge.  And maybe Boise State has now found its balance, mixing Jack Fields in with D.J. Harper and Jay Ajayi.  Last week against UNLV, Harper had 12 carries, Fields 10 and Ajayi 8.  Exactly one month before that, against BYU on the blue turf, Harper had 31 carries, Ajayi one, and Fields zero.  In fact Fields, the true freshman from El Paso, didn’t have a single rushing attempt in three of the four previous games before re-emerging versus UNLV.  “When Jack Fields gets more carries, he’s going to get into a rhythm,” said coach Chris Petersen.  Watch for him tomorrow at Wyoming.  On the other hand, all three running backs are from Texas.  We’ll see who reacts best to the cold.

Ajayi, of course, is the guy who’s really burst upon the scene the past four weeks.  “All guys from Texas are good,” quipped fellow Lone Star state product Dextrell Simmons, who goes against all three running backs in practice.  But Simmons acknowledges Ajayi has been turning heads.  “I call him the Brahma Bull,” said Simmons.  “You know he’s going to get some yards.  He’s here to compete.”  Ajayi has rushed for 288 yards this season and is averaging 7.4 per attempt, helped by the 71-yarder he busted off on the second carry of his career at New Mexico.

The word “breezy” is in tomorrow’s forecast for Laramie.  In Wyoming, “breezy” could mean a frigid blast of wind.  I’m interested to see how Boise State has kickoff specialist Trevor Harman play it.  If Harman has the wind at his back, will he just boot it to Casper?  The Broncos have been regularly placing their kicks between the goal line and the 10-yard line and crunching returners inside the new touchback spot at the 25.  Boise State has used the new kickoff rule this year to its advantage and is allowing just 18½ yards per return.  The punt cover unit has been just as stellar.  Opponents are getting less than four yards a runback.  Harman’s rugby punt will come in handy tomorrow if he has a strong wind in his face.

It’s been a bend-but-not-break season for the Boise State defense, a key to the Broncos’ 6-1 start.  It’s been bending a bit less lately, though.  Through seven games, Boise State opponents have made just 19 trips inside the red zone, fewer than three per game.  That’s top 15 in the country.  More importantly, the Broncos are tied for eighth nationally in red zone scoring defense, yielding a score just 63 percent of the time opponents cross the 20.  Most importantly, Boise State is sixth in the nation in the ultimate bottom line, scoring defense.  The Broncos are allowing just 13½ points per game.

The intangible tomorrow is how Wyoming will respond to the absence of coach Dave Christensen.  Will the Cowboys feel like they’re without a rudder, or will they rally around Christensen after his one-game suspension and $50,000 fine for the vulgar tirade directed at Air Force coach Troy Calhoun two weeks ago?  Associate head coach Pete Kaligis is going to be ruling the sideline tomorrow for the Cowboys, but the rest of the assistants knows how to handle themselves.  The Wyoming staff features four former head coaches, including defensive coordinator Chris Tormey and offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon.  Tormey, if course, is the former head man at Idaho and Nevada.  Brandon succeeded Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and coached against Boise State with the Falcons in 2005 and 2008.

Yet another series suddenly comes to an end with tomorrow’s Boise State-Wyoming game.  This one has had a little more teeth.  The Broncos and Cowboys have met six times, with Boise State winning them all, including the three played in Laramie.  The two teams first faced each other 10 years ago when the Broncos went to War Memorial Stadium without starting quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie, who had broken his ankle the week before at Arkansas.  Backup B.J. Rhode proved to be a worthy backup, capably managing a 35-13 Boise State win.

Some new experiences face Boise State’s rivals atop the Mountain West this week.  The Broncos found out what Air Force’s triple option was all about last October, and Nevada gets the indoctrination tonight on the CBS Sports Network.  The Wolf Pack is favored by only three points over the Falcons in Colorado Springs, where the high is going to be 37 today with a chance of snow.  Fresno State goes to New Mexico tomorrow, with the Bulldogs in the same boat—they have to face the wildly unfamiliar triple-option of the Lobos.  We know what that looked like to Boise State four weeks ago.

Boise State football’s graduation rate keeps graduating to a higher level.  The Broncos hit 81 percent in the new Graduation Success Rate report released yesterday by the NCAA.  The number was 74 percent last year (the current FBS average is 70).  Among this week’s AP Top 25 teams, the Broncos have the fourth-best graduation rate, trailing only Notre Dame, Rutgers and Stanford.

Another milestone for the Muscle Hamster.  Former Boise State star Doug Martin notched his first 100-yard game in the NFL last night, rushing for 135 in Tampa Bay’s 36-17 win at Minnesota.  Martin had it wrapped up by halftime, gaining 106 yards on 14 carries before the intermission, including a 41-yard scamper.  But his biggest play of the night came in the passing game when he bolted 64 yards on a screen to score early in the third quarter, giving the Buccaneers a 17-point lead.  All told, Martin had 214 all-purpose yards.  The only other former Bronco ever to rush for 100 yards in an NFL game was Brock Forsey, who had 134 for the Chicago Bears in a 2003 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

In baseball they talk about run support.  So let’s discuss “goal support” in hockey.  It must feel pretty good to Idaho Steelheads netminder Josh Robinson.  He’s been between the pipes the past three games, and in the past two the Steelheads have scored a combined 13 goals.  The pressure has been off Robinson, who has allowed only three scores in those two games.  We’ll see if coach Brad Ralph gives Tyler Beskorowany another start in goal tonight when Idaho hosts Ontario in CenturyLink Arena.  Beskorowany’s had an uneven start to his season, but maybe the Steelies’ offensive mojo will carry over and help him out.

Believe it or not, college basketball starts tonight.  The College of Idaho faces Montana Western today and Rocky Mountain College tomorrow at the Finny Memorial Tournament in Dillon, MT.  Rod Jensen enters his third season as C of I coach with a record of 23-37—interestingly enough, his overall mark as a head coach is 130-130, including his seven years at the Boise State helm.  This is the season Jensen feels the Coyotes can make their move.  “I can truly say that these are my guys,” said Jensen.  “They have bought into our system and we are progressing nicely.”  Boise State preseason practice continues, with the Broncos’ exhibition game against Saint Martin’s set for a week from tonight.

This Day In Sports…October 26, 1960:

The American League beats the National League to expansion, agreeing to add teams from Washington, DC, and Los Angeles for the 1961 season.  For the first time, the major leagues would have more than 16 teams when the newly-created Senators and the Los Angeles Angels began play.  The existing Washington Senators had already announced a move to Minneapolis, where they would become the Minnesota Twins.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)