A season ago against Utah State, Boise State was without the services of star running back Jeremy McNichols.
McNichols, who had averaged 80.3 rushing yards per game in the first six contests, was unable to suit up because of concussion-like symptoms suffered against Colorado State the previous weekend.
Due to a deadly combination of turnovers and self-inflicted wounds, the Broncos fell to the Aggies 52-26.
Would McNichols have made the difference? Probably not 26 points-worth, but his presence wouldn’t have hurt.
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“The game may or may not have been different,” wide receiver Chaz Anderson said. “With (McNichols) in there, it’s another weapon we have on the field.”
What isn’t debatable, however, is how well the junior has played since missing that Oct. 15, 2015, matchup.
In nine games since he was unable to take the field (six in 2015, three in 2016), McNichols has averaged 136 rushing yards per game and run for 1,224 yards. He has 1,631 total yards of offense (rushing and receiving) and has scored 21 total touchdowns in that timespan. For reference, Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama, scored 28 times in 15 games last season.
McNichols ran for a career-high 208 yards and scored four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) in last Saturday’s game against Oregon State and is tied for third in the country in points scored (54).
Running backs coach Lee Marks saw a different McNichols than the version who took the field a season ago.
“He just kept his feet driving on contact and he was always landing forward,” Marks said. “I would probably say that was arguably his best game, as far as just running the ball.”
Marks attributes McNichols’ gradual improvement to a few things. First and foremost is the fact that he’s a year older.
As a true sophomore in 2015, McNichols struggled to keep up, according to Marks. That’s no longer an issue given the amount of touches (291) he logged last season.
More important than the maturity, however, is the fact McNichols is “running angry’’ and maximizing every carry or reception. Marks emphasizes to his backs that leaving yards on the field is unacceptable.
McNichols has clearly received the message and is reaping the benefits.
“Sometimes, we don’t always play up to our abilities. But last Saturday, against Oregon State, he did that,” Marks said. “You can see that by the way he played. It’s like, ‘I’m going out here to prove something.’ He wants to be the best running back in the conference. He wants to be the best running back in the nation. And I support him. And you know what? I think he has that ability.”
The leading Bronco
Since missing last season’s game against Utah State, Jeremy McNichols has rushed for 1,224 yards, accounted for 1,631 total yards and scored 21 total touchdowns in nine games. Through three games in 2016, McNichols’ nine touchdowns (seven rushing, two receiving) has him tied for third in FBS in total points scored (54).
10/24/2015 vs. Wyoming
10/31/2015 @ UNLV
11/14/2015 vs. New Mexico
11/20/2015 vs. Air Force
11/27/2015 @ San Jose State
12/23/2015 vs. Northern Illinois*
09/03/2016 @ Louisiana
09/10/2016 vs. Washington State
09/24/2016 @ Oregon State