Boise State freshman tailbacks Jay Ajayi and Jack Fields have started to earn the confidence of their coaches gaining more playing time and providing some alternatives to senior workhorse D.J. Harper.
Ajayi carried six times against New Mexico and nine times against Southern Miss in the past two games. Fields got the ball four times against Southern Miss.
They have been particularly active in the second quarter.
There is some confidence being built by these young guys by their performance in practice, first of all, and secondly what theyve done in games, running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said. You dont have such a bias toward (Harper) which, dont get me wrong, him being the veteran that he is you want to get that guy in there because you know hes going to be a warrior no matter what the situation is. But you feel comfortable taking him out in the second quarter, saying we might need this guy later in the game. And thats the confidence we need in our room.
Ajayi and Fields both rushed for 2,000 yards in a season in Texas high school football.
Ajayi, a redshirt freshman, has been a fan favorite since his high school highlights hit the Internet. He intensified the interest with his 71-yard run and 118-yard performance on those six carries at New Mexico.
Jay is a big, inside runner he can go outside as well, Bhonapha said. I think he brings something different just with his elusiveness and his patience and the way he runs the ball. When he gets his opportunities, he needs to take advantage of them and the better he does with those opportunities, the more opportunities hes going to get.
Fields, a true freshman, has bounced back from a lost fumble inside the Broncos 10-yard line in the Miami (Ohio) game. He averages 3.5 yards per carry with a long of 9, but his performance through fall camp convinced coaches that he could contribute immediately.
Hes more of a downhill runner, Bhonapha said. Were definitely working to try to keep him going and progressing. With him, its just exciting to see a young guy with as much talent and effort and want-to as Jack has.
The duos emergence could help Harper, who has 94 of the teams 135 tailback carries this season. He also has 10 catches and is the primary pass blocker.
Its good to get D.J. a break here and there, junior center Matt Paradis said. Hes not Superman.
Senior tailback Drew Wright, the third player competing for the backup role, has missed the past two games with an injury.
Sophomore tight end Connor Peters could have accepted a scholarship offer from Division II Humboldt State out of De La Salle High in Concord, Calif.
Nothing against them, but I kind of wanted something more, Peters said.
Instead, he went to Laney College in Oakland and started transforming a body that weighed 212 pounds as a high school senior in 2010 into the 6-foot-4, 253-pounder he is today.
And after one semester of junior college, his dream school offered a scholarship.
Peters joined the Broncos in January and has averaged about 20 plays per game this season. He also caught a two-point pass on the swinging-gate PAT play.
Hes physical, would be the biggest thing, tight ends coach Scott Huff said of Peters. Hopefully down the line he can really be a little bit of everything for us. He was a good get.
Peters played at De La Salle with sophomore linebacker Blake Renaud, who contributed as a true freshman last season. Now theyre in the same class at Boise State, too.
This was the No. 1 (school), Peters said. (Renaud) came here and that was a big influence.
Peters credits the Laney coach, John Beam, with helping him get to Boise State. Beam coached Bhonapha in high school.
Peters did his part, too.
It was the offseason (in 2011), he said. Thats all I was thinking about was football. I needed to gain weight.
He arrived at Boise State with a redshirt year available but was pressed into immediate duty in a rotation that has been hit hard by injuries. Junior Gabe Linehan and sophomore Kyle Sosnowski are out indefinitely and freshman Hayden Plinke missed last weeks game.
Im starting to get used to things now, but in spring (the hardest adjustment) was definitely the offense, Peters said. I couldnt imagine not coming in in the spring and trying to learn everything now. Its unbelievable how just that semester has helped with learning the offense.
Junior punter Trevor Harmans performance is difficult to evaluate because his rugby-style kicks often look ugly bouncing down the field.
But coaches say hes done a nice job, averaging 41.4 yards on 16 punts. The Broncos are tied for 61st nationally in net punting.
What were asking him to do is three times as hard (as traditional punting), coach Chris Petersen said. He has three different types of kicks. We just believe that with really good returners that weve got to keep those guys off-balance. Sometimes its not the prettiest, but its effective.
Punt-return opportunities have been rare for the Broncos this season just 10 in five games (on 22 punts). That can get frustrating for returners, but Petersen said Chris Potter and Mitch Burroughs have exercised patience.
Theyre such poised kids that they get it, Petersen said. Theyll lay in the weeds and just field it, field it. If we get one of those (long punts) or they miss-hit something, then those guys will strike. Chris had two really big punt returns (against Southern Miss) it was a (13)-yarder and a 24-yarder. Thats tough, hard yardage to come by these days, how you can punt in college football and get all those coverage guys down there. I think people miss the value in somebody who can do those things.
Petersen has changed his approach to Sundays, rewarding the players for wins by giving them a day off from practice. The Broncos still work out.
In past years, the players who participated in the game reviewed their mistakes and the young players scrimmaged.
Some of the pink items the NFL uses to support breast cancer awareness in October have crept into the college ranks. Southern Miss used pink towels and wristbands in last weeks game.
Petersen said Monday he wasnt aware of any plans to wear pink at Boise State.
Boise State has 1,200 tickets for the general public and 500 student tickets available for Saturdays game.
Chadd Cripe is in his 11th season covering Boise State football for the Idaho Statesman. He also is a voter in The Associated Press Top 25. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 377-6398. His Twitter account is @IDS_BroncoBeat.