Improved run game fuels Boise State football team’s offense; Southwick faces test

Tailback highlights — Jay Ajayi and Aaron Baltazar

By Chadd Cripe
© 2013 Idaho Statesman


The Boise State football team’s revamped run game is a key reason the Broncos have scored 13 touchdowns in their past 16 possessions with starting quarterback Joe Southwick in the game.

The Broncos average 206.7 rushing yards per game and 4.7 per carry. Those numbers have increased from 168.2 and 4.6 last year and 171.9 and 4.5 in 2011.

Perhaps more importantly, the Broncos have cut their losses. Leading rusher Doug Martin averaged 0.29 yards lost per carry (combined tackles for loss divided by carries). That grew to 0.31 in 2012 with D.J. Harper — a trend that started several years ago.

This year, Jay Ajayi is averaging 0.22 yards lost per carry — keeping the Broncos out of second-and-long. That was one of the primary reasons the Broncos switched to a downhill, pistol-based run game this year.

“It gives (the tailbacks) a chance to show some of their talents as far as their vision and, we have a couple of bigger guys, so their strength — being able to break tackles and really get vertical in the running game,” running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said. “… I’m really excited about how these guys have progressed and just really our offense as a whole being able to get downhill and really get after some guys, especially in the running game.”

Said offensive coordinator Robert Prince: “Those (backs and linemen) are keeping us on schedule and when there’s nothing there they’re getting 2, 3, 4 yards. It makes it easier as a play caller.”

The Broncos have averaged 200 rushing yards per game just twice since coach Chris Petersen became the head coach in 2006 — 2006, when Ian Johnson was a Heisman Trophy candidate, and 2010, when the Broncos had arguably the most talented offense in school history.

It looks like 2013 could be next in line.

“We’re very excited,” sophomore right tackle Rees Odhiambo said of the results in the run game.

Said Ajayi: “We’re doing a great job with the run. We’re just excited about how we’ve been improving each week and we’re just going to continue doing that. The line, they’ve been doing awesome. The running backs, we’re reading our keys and trying to break tackles and make plays.”

Other notes from Bhonapha:

— He said true freshman Aaron Baltazar, who has more carries (28) than all other backups combined (18), won the No. 2 job with his consistency. “That’s one of the big things we like to talk about — just that effort and consistency. The guy who’s continually persistent and continually knows what he’s doing and is productive while he’s doing that is going to get in — and he’s done a great job being consistent for a young guy and being able to get in there and be productive.”

— He said he expects to use sophomore Jack Fields (15 carries) and junior Derrick Thomas (zero) more in the future. “This is a long season,” he said. “We haven’t seen as much of those guys as we wanted to and maybe as much as they wanted to, but it’s a process. Guys just have to be ready when it’s their time to go.”

RB Jay Ajayi talking to the media


Southwick picked apart Air Force last week, setting school and Mountain West records for completion percentage by going 27-for-29. It won’t be that easy against Fresno State.

“The opposition will be flying a little faster and more furious this week,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “… They’re going to make you earn things.”

Southwick has not performed well against strong defenses, with the exception of the 2012 MAACO Bowl. In five career games against teams ranked in the top 30 in pass-efficiency defense, he has three TD passes and three interceptions with one 200-yard game.
He was 11-of-22 for 113 yards last year against Fresno State, which finished the season fourth in pass-efficiency defense.

“He’s a guy who a year ago was trying to establish himself and didn’t have that confidence,” Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter said. “He’s got that confidence now. He’s played well so far this year.”

Fresno State is 109th in pass-efficiency defense this year. The Bulldogs struggled in the opener against Rutgers, allowing a bunch of big plays, and the backups didn’t finish the Cal Poly game well.

Here are Southwick’s games against top defenses:

Michigan State (No. 3): 15-of-31, 169 yards, 0 TDs, 1 int. (0 offensive TDs)

BYU (No. 19): 15-of-25, 145 yards, 0 TDs, 0 int. (0 offensive TDs)

Fresno State (No. 4): 11-of-22, 113 yards, 1 TD, 1 int. (2 offensive TDs)

Washington (No. 27): 26-of-38, 264 yards, 2 TDs, 0 int. (3 offensive TDs)

Washington (No. 14): 25-of-40, 152 yards, 0 TDs, 1 int. (0 offensive TDs)


— Boise State wide receiver Kirby Moore: “Fresno’s a different beast than maybe the past two weeks that we’ve played. We need to be ready to go on Friday.”

— Bhonapha on Fresno State: “They’ve always been a good team. They usually consider themselves like us — one of those blue-collar, hard-nosed teams. We’ve just got to be ready for a fight and get out there and play some good Boise State football.”

— Fresno State safety Derron Smith on the Bulldogs’ game at Colorado being canceled: “It was a little disappointing, but there’s nothing we can really do but move on. It helps with Boise State being the next team — that’s definitely a big game for both schools. It was pretty easy to transition into the next week.”


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Monday blog: Notes and videos from Chris Petersen’s press conference, new recruit, Southern Miss game time
Tuesday story: Boise State football news and notes
Tuesday blog: What this game means to Fresno State
Tuesday blog: Mountain West Football Report
Wednesday story: Derek Carr hopes for breakthrough season
Wednesday story: Scouting the Bulldogs
Name the Score Contest
Wednesday blog: Ajayi tries to slow pickle juice phenomenon
Thursday story: Petersen’s role in the offense, and other notes



Boise State depth chart
Boise State stats
Boise State game notes
Fresno State game notes
Mountain West weekly release



Fresno Bee

You can follow writers Robert Kuwada (@rkuwada) and B.J. Anteola (@Banteola_TheBee) on Twitter.



Boise State at Fresno State

When: 7:01 p.m. MT Friday

Where: Bulldog Stadium (41,031, FieldTurf), Fresno, Calif.

TV: ESPN (Carter Blackburn, Danny Kanell, Allison Williams)

Radio: KBOI (670AM), KKGL (96.9 FM); Bob Behler, Pete Cavender

Records: Boise State is 2-1 overall, 1-0 Mountain West; Fresno State is 2-0, 0-0

Rankings: Fresno State is ranked No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

Series: Boise State leads 11-4 (BSU 20-10, 2012 in Boise)

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Chadd Cripe has spent the past 12 years as the Boise State football beat writer. You can follow him on Twitter @IDS_BroncoBeat.

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