The Boise State football team entered Friday’s game at BYU ranked 104th out of 130 FBS teams with an average of 117 rushing yards per game.
Behind the Broncos’ fifth different offensive line combination in as many games, sophomore running back Alexander Mattison found his rhythm, rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns in BSU’s 24-7 win over BYU in Provo, Utah.
Mattison ended a six-game stretch in which the Broncos failed to produce a 100-yard rusher dating back to Jeremy McNichols’ 206-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 42-25 victory against UNLV on Nov. 18, 2016.
Mattison took a more aggressive approach after two weeks of practice between the Virginia and BYU games. Coach Bryan Harsin showed Mattison a clip of him running through a BYU defender in last year’s game as proof of what he could do.
“Just knowing that we don’t have the time, we don’t have the space, the opportunity, to sit there and dance around,” Mattison said. “We’ve got to hit it downhill and fast and physical. That’s what we came into the game prepared to do, and we attacked it.”
It took a demotion to finally get the 5-foot-11, 214-pounder to show some of the potential he flashed during spring ball. For the first time this season, freshman Robert Mahone got the start at running back over Mattison.
After Mahone was pulled for a fumble on the Broncos’ second possession of the game, Mattison responded with the best game of his career. Mattison totaled 328 rushing yards and four touchdowns all of last season.
“I thought he ran violent this evening and it showed up,” Harsin said.
From one Idahoan to another
When former Boise State coach Chris Petersen first offered Kekoa Nawahine a scholarship, Petersen wasn’t sure which side of the ball the Rocky Mountain High product would play.
Nawahine started on both sides of the ball in high school, and was an all-5A SIC first-team selection at wide receiver and safety as a senior.
The 6-foot-2, 199-pound Nawahine eventually settled at safety for the Broncos, but he flashed a bit of his receiving skills with his second career interception against BYU.
Nawahine intercepted former Idaho high school rival Mangum in the second quarter and returned it 51 yards. His pick led to a 20-yard field goal by Haden Hoggarth and a 10-7 Boise State lead with less than 2 minutes left before the half.
Nawahine finished the game with a team-high nine tackles (seven solo).
“Kekoa’s interception was a major momentum-changer,” Harsin said.
Late in the fourth quarter, Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch — a graduate of Salmon River High in Riggins — picked off another Mangum pass. It was the second INT of the season for Vander Esch and the third of his career.
The Broncos now have 10 takeaways this season, surpassing the nine they had all of last season.
“It felt weird running with the ball for once because that’s been a while,” said Vander Esch, who also played quarterback for his eight-man team in high school.
Another tough road game looms
While Boise State successfully rebounded from its worst home loss in 16 years with an easy win at BYU, the Broncos have another difficult road test next week.
BSU plays at Mountain West preseason favorite San Diego State on Saturday, Oct. 14. Kickoff is 8:30 p.m. MT (CBS Sports Network).
The two teams last met at Albertsons Stadium in 2014 — a 38-29 Boise State win.
The No. 19 Aztecs are 5-0 heading into their game Saturday at UNLV and already have wins over Pac-12 squads Arizona State and Stanford. SDSU is the only unbeaten team remaining in the Mountain West.