Printed on: September 28, 2013

Broncos looking for legs today

BSU is hoping to capitalize on a weak rush defense from So. Miss.

By RYAN HOWE
The Times-News

BOISE -- Boise State's running backs could have a huge Saturday night against a Southern Miss defense that is giving up 205.3 yards rushing per game this season.

That is, if the Bronco 'backs can hold on to the football.

"We've put the ball on the ground a couple times, which definitely at the running back position is not acceptable," said Keith Bhonapha, BSU running backs coach.

Jay Ajayi has fumbled three times in the last two games, losing two of them, but Bhonapha wouldn't single him out.

"I don't necessarily see it as an issue with him, I think it's an issue of me making more of an emphasis on it for the whole group. When it comes to the fumble situation, it's a group thing," Bhonapha said.

When asked to grade the running backs' performance this season, Bhonapha gave them 8 out of 10. He praised the group's pass protection, and he likes how hard they're running downhill.

Ajayi, a redshirt sophomore, has seen an increased workload as the starting tailback. His carries per game are up from 7.5 last year to 18.8 this season. He's scored seven touchdowns and averages 4.7 yards per carry.

True freshman Aaron Baltazar worked himself into the lead backup role, surpassing older players on the depth chart such as sophomore Jack Fields and junior Derrick Thomas.

"You look at the guys that are consistent and productive at practice and usually it translates into the game. That's one of the things that has happened for Aaron," said Bhonapha. "He's a smart kid. The running back position, running the ball is second nature for those guys. But when it comes to a guy being able to pick up the adjustments and pass protection and different things like that and being able to retain that information ... to see a freshman do that is very impressive."

When Ajayi was benched after fumbling in the third quarter against Fresno State, Baltazar jumped in and had his best game thus far as a Bronco, rushing for 92 yards and two touchdowns.

Where is Ajayi's confidence level after the fumbles and subsequent benching?

"You won't find guys that care more about football more than these guys and they want to do their job and they want to be successful at their job. They're no different than any person on the street who doesn't do a good job, they're going to get down on themselves," said Bhonapha. "So it's my job as a coach to encourage them and bring them back up."

What will be the running back rotation going forward?

"We'll see both of those guys (Ajayi and Baltazar) out there on the field," Bhonapha said. "We have a stable of guys that can go in there and play. We just need guys who are going to go in there and be productive."

The pounding that running backs take is only amplified by Boise State's up-tempo offense. The Broncos are averaging nearly 10 rushing attempts per game more than they had last year. Over the course of a season, the hits add up. That's why, Bhonapha said, it's important for every running back on the roster to be prepared for when his number is called.

"Running back is a very physical position, so you have to account for that," Bhonapha said. "... The guys getting more plays; you do have to worry about guys wearing down toward the end of the season."