Boise State looks to boost running game against Hawaii

  • Boise State quarterback Jaylon Henderson (9) goes airborne over Hawaii defensive back Khoury Bethley, middle, and Hawaii defensive back Ikem Okeke, right, for a 5 yard touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West Championship Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

Boise State’s ground game hasn’t been particularly productive over the past two games. The Broncos managed just 61 rushing yards in a lopsided loss to BYU followed by 89 yards in a win over Colorado State.

But coach Bryan Harsin says the blame doesn’t belong solely to junior Andrew Van Buren, who has taken over at running back after starter George Holani suffered an apparent leg injury against Air Force.

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And Van Buren could be in for a breakout game when the Broncos (3-1, 3-0 MW) play at Hawaii (2-2 MW) on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. HST on CBS Sports Network.

“He’s getting better as he goes,” Harsin said Monday. “We need to help him. Part of our run game is making sure that we help and we block the guys downfield we’re supposed to block — we don’t miss a safety and wide receiver; we have good snaps; we hand the ball off on time. I mean, there’s a lot of other factors that come into play when you’re talking about the tailback position. But he’s gonna have a great week.”

Hawaii ranks last in the Mountain West in run defense, giving up an average of 251.5 yards per game.

The Warriors are coming off a 34-10 loss to San Diego State in which they gave up 326 yards on the ground, including Greg Bell’s 160-yard, two-TD performance to lead the Aztecs.

“I’ve always thought Andrew — and I still do — I think he’s a very good tailback,” Harsin said. “I think he can be an excellent player at that position.”

Harsin said he remains hopeful the Broncos will get more depth back at running back.

Williams honored by Mountain West: For the fifth time in his career and the second time in the last three weeks, Boise State redshirt senior Avery Williams was named the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Week.

Williams blocked two punts in the Broncos’ 52-21 victory over Colorado State last Thursday, both of which resulted in touchdowns. Williams recovered the first one in the end zone for the game’s opening score, and the second was scooped up by teammate DJ Schramm and returned 20 yards for a TD.

Williams also averaged 12.1 yards per punt return, with a long of 33. Two of his returns ended up in Colorado State territory and led to scoring drives.

After last week’s performance, Williams now has seven special-teams touchdowns (four punt return, two kick return, one blocked punt return) and five blocked kicks over his career.

Good to be back: Between COVID-19, injuries and a 74-player roster limit, the Boise State football team had 35 inactive players for last Thursday’s game against Colorado State.

But Boise State fans breathed a sigh of relief when No. 19 trotted onto The Blue for the Broncos’ first offensive series.

Starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier was back in the lineup after missing the Broncos’ last two games for an undisclosed reason, and the 6-foot-1, 204-pound sophomore provided an invaluable piece of stability in the victory over the Rams at Albertsons Stadium.

“It was nice to have him back out there,” Boise State senior Avery Williams said. “From a defensive perspective, he’s just a field general out there and a playmaker. He’s really smart. His IQ is really high, and he really knows how to operate the offense.”

Although Bachmeier participated throughout warmups, his return after a two-game absence wasn’t certain until he took the field for the first time with 11 minutes left in the first quarter.

He threw a 12-yard completion to Stefan Cobbs on his first passing attempt of the game, and the second-year starter capped the Broncos’ opening possession with a 5-yard TD pass to tight end Riley Smith. It was Smith’s first career TD reception.

Bachmeier, who was not made available for postgame interviews, finished with a QB rating of 129.5, going 16-for-28 through the air for 202 yards and the TD toss to Smith. Bachmeier’s return was crucial given backups Jack Sears and Chase Cord were both on the inactive list for Thursday’s game, leaving just true freshmen Cade Fennegan and Andy Peters.

“Having Hank back was big,” Bryan Harsin said. “… He knows what he’s doing out there. He’s able to operate, and he’s a competitor.”

arsin said. “They came after the quarterback, and that was something that we really wanted to not let happen. But they had some good schemes that they dialed up on the defensive side.”

In all, 14 Boise State players were ruled out because of COVID-19 protocols, the university announced before kickoff: nine because of positive tests and five as a result of contact tracing.

Boise State did not identify the players who were missing because of the protocols.

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Punter Joel Velazquez, linebacker Brock Miller, cornerback Tyric LeBeauf and wide receivers Octavius Evans and Shea Whiting were out for the second week in a row for undisclosed reasons.

Roberts writes for the Idaho Statesman

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