In February, Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin was not shy about admitting his team had “big question marks” at one key position.
It wasn’t quarterback — it was running back.
Sure, the Broncos have plenty to figure out when it comes to who their passer will be, but we also are talking about a team that has 10 straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher.
And any answer probably won’t come soon for Boise State, which opened spring practices Friday.
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“They’re going to have to take all 15 practices to prove to us ... they can run downhill hard and play like the guys in the past who have played in order for us to be the type of running team we want to be,” Harsin said. “We haven’t run the ball still as effectively as we want to. ... We need to run the ball better.”
If not for Alexander Mattison’s masterful final month last season, the Broncos were on pace for one of their worst rushing seasons since moving up to the FBS level in 1996. They averaged 149.8 yards per game the first nine games, 207.5 ypg the last four.
Mattison is gone, opting to head to the NFL, and there’s plenty of unknowns in the wake of his departure. Sophomore Andrew Van Buren had 34 carries for 163 yards in 2018 as a true freshman, and junior Robert Mahone had 32 carries for 128 yards. Subtracting sacks, quarterback Brett Rypien’s 206 gross rushing yards were No. 2 on the team.
Perhaps in years past it was obvious who the next back would be, like when Mattison took over for Jeremy McNichols in 2017, but it’s not the case at the moment.
“None of those guys right now,” Harsin said. “We’re not at Mattison status at any point right now. Van Buren’s got to elevate his game. Rob Mahone has really done well in the weight room, has had a really great semester academically and feels like he’s on this path and very focused on what he wants to accomplish, so that excites me.”
Van Buren (6-0, 220 pounds) was a highly touted recruit, and like Mattison and McNichols played as a true freshman. He had all but 56 of his yards in September. Mahone did not travel to the First Responder Bowl for academic reasons, but he’s listed at 5-10, 216 pounds this spring, up 12 pounds from last season.
Harsin said redshirt freshman Danny Smith (6-0, 211) has progressed well, and the Broncos add freshman backs George Holani and Keegan Duncan to the mix this summer. Both were rated as four-star recruits by 247Sports.com. Also, one can’t forget receivers John Hightower and Khalil Shakir, who rushed for 163 and 70 yards last season, respectively, and figure to be part of the attack this fall.
“Right now, it would be by committee. If I told you one of those guys was the guy, I’d be lying to you because I don’t know who it is,” Harsin said. “... They’re a great group, they want to be (one), they just haven’t done it yet.”
Gymnastics: Broncos host BYU in home finale
The No. 13 Boise State gymnastics team takes on No. 16 BYU in the Broncos’ final home meet of the 2019 season at 7 p.m. Thursday in Taco Bell Arena. Fans are encouraged to wear orange to the meet for an “Orange Out.”
Boise State will honor its three seniors — Alex Esmerian, Sarah Means and Shani Remme — after the awards ceremony at the end of the meet. The trio has led the Broncos to a 61-14 record the past four seasons, which includes three conference championships and three NCAA regional appearances. The group also is 26-1 against Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference opponents.
This will be the second meeting of the season between the Broncos (11-1, 5-0 MRGC) and Cougars (7-4, 2-2). Boise State recorded the third-highest team score in program history to defeat BYU 197.175 to 196.900 on Feb. 15 in Provo, Utah.
Women’s basketball: Broncos close out regular season
The Boise State women’s basketball team completes its regular-season schedule Thursday with a 7 p.m. matchup against Air Force (8-20, 4-13 MW) at Clune Arena in USAFA, Colorado.
Regardless of the outcome, the Broncos (24-4, 15-2) already have clinched a second straight Mountain West Conference regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
Boise State topped the Falcons 79-48 on Jan. 23 in Boise, and the Broncos have won 11 straight in the series. Thursday’s game is available online at WatchStadium.com and on 1350 AM.