ATLANTA — Boise State junior tailback Jay Ajayi played nearly every snap Thursday night against Ole Miss and left little doubt that he is the Broncos’ most valuable player.
Ajayi rushed 20 times for 86 yards and made 12 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown in the 35-13 loss to Ole Miss.
He left the game for one play in the third quarter and sophomore Devan Demas carried for 3 yards. Ajayi returned for the next snap.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Broncos inserted junior Jack Fields at tailback with the game out of reach. He was on the field for two plays — both sacks. Then Ajayi came back.
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As far as I could tell, Ajayi only missed three of the team’s 85 offensive plays. But he said the pounding he took did not bother him.
“I feel good right now,” he said. “I don’t feel good about the result, obviously, but my body feels good. Anything I can do to help this team, that’s been my mindset from day one and if that’s me touching the ball over 30 times, then so be it. I know that when we get clicking and once we go back and watch this film, I know next Saturday we’ll be a lot better than we were tonight.”
Ajayi isn’t likely to maintain that workload all season, but if he did, here’s how it would add up:
— 416 touches. Last year, he had 271. He had 22 catches last year and a career-high 12 against Ole Miss. His previous career high was six in the Broncos’ previous game, against Oregon State.
— 2,327 yards. Last year, he had 1,685 yards.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said many of Ajayi’s receptions were because the Ole Miss defense was giving the Broncos the check-down throws.
“We were going to see how Jay was doing, but when he gets on a roll, it's hard to take him out,” Sanford said. “He didn't end up having a ton of carries, so I felt like we did a good job of protecting him, taking care of him, but he's a guy you've got to feed the ball to.”
Said quarterback Grant Hedrick: “He’s our workhorse. He had a great game. He plays with a lot of heart and physically he’s very gifted. We’ve just got to keep giving him the ball.”
The biggest problem for Ajayi against Ole Miss was his inability to get into the end zone in the first half. On the first red-zone drive, he carried for no gain on first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. On the second red-zone drive, he lost a yard on first-and-goal at the 1, gained a yard on second-and-goal at the 2 (he was inches short) and lost 2 yards on third-and-goal at the 1.
The Rebels were able to get some penetration on those plays.
“Once you get down around the 5-, the 1-yard line, you just have to find a way to get in the end zone, no matter what play is called,” Ajayi said. “No matter if it’s blocked right, no matter if they’re covering us, we just have to make a play and get in the end zone and get points.”
Sanford said he and Hedrick were guilty of impatience against an Ole Miss defense designed to keep passes in front of them.
“They don't give you much down the field,” Sanford said. “They're a very top-down conscious defensive backfield. At times we got a little impatient as play-callers, taking what they give you consistently. It was a challenge to find deep ball opportunities, and we forced two of them that led to interceptions.”
Wide receiver Matt Miller has 222 career receptions. He’s seven behind Austin Pettis for the school record.
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