SAM McCASKILL, DEFENSIVE END
A backup defensive end as a junior and freshman, a starting defensive tackle as a sophomore, McCaskill has been nearly as productive in four games this season as he was in his first three years for the Broncos. The Oregon native played in 38 games entering this season, with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. This season, he has 18 tackles (seven for loss), four sacks and has batted down four passes.
McCaskill’s group, which is off to an excellent start, will again be of vital importance, not as much in the pass rush, but against New Mexico’s No. 2-ranked run game.
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“A lot of plays I’ve made this year have been freed up because of other players making plays,” McCaskill said. “The production doesn’t play into how much fun I’ve been having. … In our core defensive line, we’ve really come together and been a lot closer than we have in the past.”
BLAKE WHITLOCK, LINEBACKER
Whitlock joined the Broncos this summer as a walk-on and earned a scholarship three weeks into fall camp. It was a quick rise for the junior, who considered giving up football earlier this year while at Saddleback (Calif.) College, when the dream of playing for a big-time college football program seemed out of reach.
He earned his first start Saturday against Utah State with Tanner Vallejo out with an injury. If Vallejo cannot go again, Whitlock is ready for the challenge.
“I want to take advantage of every opportunity I get, whether it’s one play a game, whether it’s one kickoff, I’m going to make the most of it,” Whitlock said.
STEVEN BAGGETT, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
The senior has been the team’s offensive lineman of the week for consecutive games, and Saturday’s win over Utah State tested his versatility. Baggett moved from guard to center to fill injured junior Mason Hampton’s spot, moving tackle Mario Yakoo to guard and getting redshirt freshman John Molchon his first start at tackle. Baggett has started 31 games, including two at tackle as a redshirt freshman.
“I couldn’t be more proud of (him) stepping in there at center,” co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Scott Huff said. “There’s nobody in this program I trust more than that guy. … He came in and did an unbelievable job for us on short notice.”
TERIYON GIPSON, TAILBACK
An absolute home-run hitter, Gipson has rushed for 399 yards in three games … on just 31 carries. That’s 12.9 yards per attempt, and no other back in the FBS averages more than 9.0. Three of the junior’s carries have gone for more than 60 yards.
That explosiveness is no surprise to Boise State: He had a 42-yard catch in last season’s game and rushed for 205 yards the last time the teams met in Albuquerque. Gipson has fought a hamstring injury this week but is expected to play.
“He’s really fast; he’s a great player. It’ll be definitely a big task to stop him,” Boise State defensive end Sam McCaskill said. “A lot of the big plays he has busted, you see one guy get his eyes just a little bit wrong, and he’ll hit it quick.”
DAKOTA COX, LINEBACKER
A three-time captain, Cox is the leader of the Lobos’ defense, anchoring the middle linebacker spot with authority. His 333 career tackles are No. 2 among active FBS players. Cox missed the Sept. 17 game at Rutgers with an injury, but in the three games since, he has 21 tackles (2.5 for loss), a sack, a forced fumble and an interception.
“I would call him, honestly, a maximum achiever, in that he maximizes everything he has, just because of the intangibles he brings to it,’’ coach Bob Davie told The Albuquerque Journal.
LAMAR JORDAN, QUARTERBACK
He has shared time the past two seasons with the more pass-inclined Austin Apodaca, but with the senior out with a collarbone injury, it’s Jordan’s show. In the past two games, he’s 12-of-19 passing for 129 yards with 27 rushes for 146 yards.
Jordan, a junior, has fared well against Boise State, completing 10-of-17 passes for 168 yards and rushing for 60 yards.
“I think the guy’s a really good football player, does a lot of really special things out there, especially when the play breaks down,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said.