In a 2-minute span, the Boise State football team went from finishing a War And Peace-length drive to picking up See Spot Run.
The Broncos used their longest and shortest drives of the season to get a double-digit lead in the first quarter on UNLV, an edge they never let dwindle in a 42-25 win Friday night.
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It was another highly efficient output for the Boise State offense in its home regular-season finale at Albertsons Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 32,989.
On its second and third possessions of the game, No. 20 Boise State followed up a 19-play, 74-yard drive that ate up 8:18 with a one-play, 6-yard drive that took a grand total of 7 seconds, thanks to a rare lengthy punt return.
The plays turned a 3-0 deficit into a 14-3 lead.
“We were looking for 10-play drives, so we just evened it out,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “... We were punching it down at them physically, running the ball downhill. The one-play drives are nice, too.
“It gives guys confidence, now you’re rolling, and you can come back and do it again, hopefully.”
All the Broncos (10-1, 6-1 Mountain West) had to do from there was put the ball in the hands of junior running back Jeremy McNichols. The Broncos had little need for aerial fireworks: it was See Jeremy Run.
McNichols rushed for 206 yards on 31 carries, tying a career-high with four touchdowns, and had a 22-yard reception. He nearly outran both teams’ combined passing yardage, as the Rebels (4-7, 3-4) had 113 yards through the air and the Broncos had 109.
“I told (running backs coach Lee) Marks before the game, I felt something special in the air,” McNichols said. “When you’re in that groove, you feel like every (run) can go the distance. And I kind of felt that tonight.”
On his first rush of the game, McNichols lost a yard, then Boise State put itself behind the 8-ball when senior wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck fumbled on the second play from scrimmage, giving the Rebels prime field position at the Broncos’ 29-yard line. They settled for a field goal.
Then, the methodical approach that would represent much of the evening could truly begin.
On their marathon drive, the Broncos converted three third downs and a fourth down, with McNichols rushing nine times for 29 yards. He fumbled on the last attempt, at the 1-yard line, but offensive tackle John Molchon recovered.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, who had a 3-yard sneak on a fourth-and-1, jumped on top of the pile for a 1-yard touchdown. The Broncos’ longest previous drive this season was a 16-play, 90-yarder Oct. 15 against Colorado State that covered 6:36.
“It’s tiring, but it’s also fun,” senior offensive guard Travis Averill said. “You’re doing what you want. You get in those third-down situations and you need to get the job done and get that first down. To keep doing that, it’s an amazing feeling to do whatever you want to that defense and get that first down.”
The Broncos’ defense forced a three-and-out, after which junior wide receiver Cedrick Wilson ran back a season-long 73-yard punt return down to the UNLV 6-yard line. On the next play, McNichols scored easily, making it 23 straight games with a touchdown.
McNichols’ 26 total touchdowns are six more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision player, and his 22 rushing touchdowns are three more than anyone else. He has 1,575 rushing yards on the year, good for No. 4 in a single season in Boise State history. His 143.2 rushing yards per game are No. 3 in the nation.
San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is No. 2 (177.9) and Wyoming’s Brian Hill is No. 4 (141.7).
“I had a more difficult time getting McNichols down than the other two, but they’re all good running backs,” UNLV safety Troy Hawthorne said.
On Boise State’s three second-half scoring drives, it was almost all McNichols.
The first drive of the third quarter, McNichols had 52 of the Broncos’ 55 yards, capped off by freshman Alexander Mattison’s 3-yard touchdown run that made it 28-10 with 2:12 elapsed.
On the next drive, he had 22 of the offense’s 31 yards, scoring on a 4-yard run with 8:01 left in the third quarter. In the fourth, McNichols had all 47 yards on the last scoring drive, finishing it with a 31-yard touchdown run after it was kept alive by a UNLV personal foul on a punt.
Rypien hardly had to throw, completing 10-of-20 passes for 109 yards, his lowest amount of completions, attempts and yards in a start in his career. The Broncos finished with 271 rushing yards, giving them 815 on the ground the last three games. They’ve scored 139 points in those three.
“I feel like when I make statement runs like that, it really helps out our team,” McNichols said. “Some of those runs do get emotional, when you physically dominate another man, it does get emotional.”
UNLV quarterback Kurt Palandech kept the Rebels alive in the game, scoring on two touchdown runs, rushing for 64 yards and completing 10-of-20 for 113 yards with a 45-yard touchdown with 1:41 remaining.
Boise State outgained UNLV 380-302, but the Rebels had drives of eight, 12, 14 and 10 plays on their scores.
“I felt like at times we were shaky because we’d go out there and we’d shut them down ... and there would be times they’d take us all the way down the field,” senior defensive end Sam McCaskill said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get off the field quicker.”
Boise State, which clinched its 12th double-digit win season in the last 15 years, now will watch Saturday to see if Wyoming (7-3) can handle San Diego State (9-1). If the Cowboys lose to the Aztecs (1:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network), Boise State will clinch the Mountain Division with a win in the regular season finale Friday at Air Force.
Should that happen, Friday’s game against UNLV won’t be the last at Albertsons Stadium this year. The Broncos would then host the Mountain West championship game against San Diego State on Dec. 3.
Senior offensive tackle Mario Yakoo wasn’t shy about it, saying he’s pulling for the Aztecs.
And senior linebacker Darren Lee wants another game on the blue.
“It’s a good place. It’s great. Love the people, love the crowd, love the energy,’’ he said. “There’s no other feeling, really.”
San Diego State at Wyoming
Wyoming is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011, but it can take a huge step toward clinching a division title in the Mountain West against San Diego State on Saturday (1:30 p.m., CBSSN).
If the Cowboys (7-3, 5-1) defeat the Aztecs and New Mexico next week, they win the Mountain Division. No. 20 Boise State (10-1, 6-1) is a half-game ahead after beating UNLV on Friday, but it needs to win out and hope Wyoming loses once.
The Aztecs (9-1, 6-0), who have a 17-game winning streak in conference play, have already clinched the West Division.
The game is also a matchup of two of the top three rushers in the FBS. San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey leads the nation in rushing (1,779), while Wyoming’s Brian Hill is third (1,417).