Boise State true freshman Jeremy McNichols will split time between wide receiver and tailback this season, associate head coach Kent Riddle said Thursday.
Boise State recruited McNichols (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) as a running back but he originally committed to Utah as a wide receiver. He played about 20 snaps in his first college game Saturday at Nevada, mostly at wide receiver.
McNichols’ future remains at running back, Riddle said, but he was activated this season in part to fill the void left by wide receiver Matt Miller’s injury.
“We want to utilize his skill set and let him do all those things,” said Riddle, who also is the running backs and special teams coach. “He will be hard to defend when they don’t know, ‘Is he a running back? Is he a receiver?’ ”
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McNichols made four catches for 54 yards and had one carry for 28 yards against Nevada. He averaged 16.4 yards per touch.
His catches occurred near the line of scrimmage — he ran the shovel sweep that had been going to slot receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes — rather than downfield.
“We just thought he was a guy who could do something with the ball in his hands and give us a boost, and he certainly showed he could do that,” Riddle said.
McNichols splits his time between working with Riddle and wide receivers coach Junior Adams. He’s spending more time with Adams because McNichols has a better grasp of the running back concepts, Riddle said.
McNichols is not available for interviews this year. Riddle said he probably felt a little “shock” when coaches told him their plan.
“But he’s a phenomenal young man,” Riddle said, “and he was like, ‘Whatever I need to do to help the team.’ We said, ‘We’ll make sure it’s worth your while.’ ”
Coaches wanted to get McNichols about five touches against Nevada to see what he could do.
“That’s exactly what we hoped to have happen,” Riddle said of his production. “We wanted to get him the ball about five times and wanted him to have some success.”
Most yards from scrimmage by Boise State players this season:
Jay Ajayi (vs. Colorado State): 280
Ajayi (vs. Louisiana): 187
Ajayi (vs. Ole Miss): 179
Ajayi (at Nevada): 170
Matt Miller (vs. Colorado State): 151
Ajayi (at Air Force): 121
Miller (vs. Louisiana): 107
Miller (vs. Ole Miss): 84
Jeremy McNichols (at Nevada): 82
The Broncos practiced Thursday for just the second time this week. They also will practice Saturday, then take Sunday off as their usual Monday. Game-week practices begin Monday for the Oct. 17 home game against Fresno State.
“We’re trying to get the players a little rest, get everybody healthy, but we’re still trying to get some work in,” Riddle said.
Some coaches already are on the road recruiting.
“By tomorrow, everybody pretty much will be out,” Riddle said.
The bye week hit at a time when the Broncos are beat up and after they played four road games in six weeks.
“As a coach, you’re always going to try to take advantage of wherever it hits,” Riddle said. “It does seem like this is a great time. We’re at the halfway point. Our players could use a little bit of rest.”
On special teams, Riddle has focused on two units this week: field goal/PAT and kickoff return.
“We definitely have to get the field goal and kickoff return up to our standard,” he said. “They aren’t right now. It’s not because of effort. It’s just some little things we’ve got to fix. I think we’ve done a good job this week tending to those and I expect them to be better.”
Kicker Dan Goodale is 7-for-11 on field goals and 22-for-24 on PATs. He has pushed three field goals to the right and had three kicks blocked. Two of the blocks were protection issues; the other was a low kick.
All of the missed field goals were from the right hash mark. Former kicker Kyle Brotzman once got into a lengthy funk from the left hashmark.
Those issues can be a challenge to overcome.
“It’s hard. It’s definitely hard,” Riddle said. “But I don’t think we’re at that point by any means. Dan, he’s one of the best mentality guys I’ve seen as a kicker. He truly believes, ‘Hey, I’ve got it.’ Both games where he has missed one or not hit the ball well he’s come back later in the game and drilled one. I think he’s got the right idea. We’ve just got to not start off bad and work to good. We’ve got to start good and stay good. And I expect him to do that.”
Goodale had made nine field goals in a row and 21 of 22 before his first miss Sept. 20 against Louisiana. He went 2-for-4 in that game, 0-for-1 (blocked) at Air Force and 1-for-2 at Nevada.
That’s a 3-for-7 stretch.
“He’s just got to go out there and strike it with confidence,” Riddle said. “We did work on some technical things we think will help and seemed to have fixed the issue, but that stuff is hard to tell until you’re in a live game situation. Dan’s an excellent kicker. When he goes out there and hits the ball with confidence, it goes right through the middle. When you try to aim it, sometimes bad things happen.”
On kickoff return, the Broncos rank 80th nationally at 20 yards per return. They have used wide receiver Dallas Burroughs in place of cornerback Bryan Douglas (in and out with injuries), but Riddle said injuries to the blockers have been the primary issue.
“That’s something you’ll see us get significantly better at over the second half of the season,” Riddle said.
McNichols could get some chances as a kickoff returner, Riddle said.
Riddle did not provide a specific reason for the fumbled handoff between tailback Jay Ajayi and quarterback Grant Hedrick at Nevada. He said it was due to “a variety of things.”
“Jay’s obviously had a really good first half of the season,” Riddle said. “We’ve just got to do a good job of eliminating the turnovers. He’s really working on that. I expect him to be great and continue what he’s done and take care of the ball and continue to show he’s as good of a running back as there is anywhere.”
Ajayi is seventh in the nation with 164.8 yards from scrimmage per game and first with 173 total touches. At his current pace, he would finish with 2,142 yards from scrimmage in 13 games (regular season plus bowl). He’d get to 2,307 if the Broncos play a 14th game (conference championship game). He needs 2,254 yards to crack the all-time top 10.
The latest Bronco All Access episode takes a look at the Nevada win and the celebration that followed. The locker room, coach Bryan Harsin said, was “one big party.”
Defensive line coach Steve Caldwell also spoke to the media Thursday. Here is the video. I’ll post notes from him tomorrow.
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