Reinforcements could be on the way for the No. 16 Boise State football team when the Broncos line up against UNLV on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Five weeks will have passed since safety DeAndre Pierce and right tackle John Ojukwu were last on the field for the Broncos. Both sustained lower-leg injuries in the season opener against Florida State.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said Pierce and Ojukwu participated in practice during the bye week under controlled conditions and could make their returns as early as this week.
“As far as those guys just cutting it loose, we’ll see where they are on Tuesday,” Harsin said during his Monday press conference at the Bleymaier Football Center.
“I think we’ll still be working them into a full practice, full speed and taking the reps like you need to in a Tuesday practice. But I do think there’s a really good chance by the end of the week those guys are playing.”
Even if both players return in time for Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. kickoff at Sam Boyd Stadium (CBS Sports Network), their injuries aren’t necessarily fully behind them.
“Those two guys are tough dudes. I don’t think they’re pain free by any means, but I know that they want to play,” Harsin said. “It’s our job to make sure that we’re able to let them play at the level they need to. They’re gonna push themselves, and they’ve been doing that. This week will be a big test for how far they’ve come and are they ready to play Saturday.”
Punting a focus during bye
Boise State’s offseason overhaul of special teams has yet to change the trajectory of its punting unit.
The Broncos rank last in the Mountain West and 126th among 130 FBS teams with a punting average of 35.9 yards. Junior punter Joel Velazquez’s punting average has dropped every game, starting with a season-high 39.0 average with two punts of more than 50 yards against Florida State and falling to a season-low 33.0 against Air Force.
Harsin works directly with the punt team, and he remains as baffled as anyone.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve made the type of strides that we want to on special teams,” Harsin said. “The frustrating part is we spend a lot of time on it.”
Harsin said Velazquez has the leg to get the job done — his career best is 63 yards — but all aspects of the unit must align for the punt itself to be successful. Right now, that’s not happening.
“I know Joel is extremely talented. Joel has got a great leg. He’s very powerful, and I know what he’s capable of doing,” Harsin said. “We just have to be consistent there. That includes snaps, that includes the whole nine.”
Transfer ineligible this season
Junior linebacker Josh Booker-Brown won’t be suiting up for the Broncos this season.
The transfer from Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Mississippi, is academically ineligible and will redshirt this season, Harsin said. The Broncos had hoped Booker-Brown could add depth at linebacker, a position that is especially thin after Ezekiel Noa’s season-ending ACL injury against Air Force.
Booker-Brown played in nine games for Pearl River last season, making 41 tackles, including six for loss and two sacks. He also blocked three kicks, recovered a fumble and broke up a pass.
Kick time set for Hawaii
Boise State’s next home game could be one of the Mountain West’s best regular-season contests — and it will kick off in the conference’s usual ESPN window.
The Broncos will meet Hawaii (4-1) at 8:15 p.m. Oct. 12 at Albertsons Stadium. The game will air on ESPN2. The time and TV were announced Monday.
Hawaii, which has wins over Arizona and Oregon State and smashed Nevada 54-3 on Saturday, has emerged as a conference title contender in the West Division. The Warriors are off this week.
The Hawaii game is the seventh Boise State game scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. or later Mountain time this season. Three more are still awaiting game times from ESPN.
Soccer, volleyball honored
The Boise State soccer and volleyball teams swept the weekly Mountain West awards for their respective sports Monday.
▪ Senior forward Raimee Sherle was chosen as soccer’s offensive player of the week, while sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Smith collected defensive player of the week. It is the eighth weekly award of Sherle’s career, which is the most in Mountain West history. Sherle had two goals and an assist in the Broncos’ wins over Nevada and UNLV. Smith played 180 minutes in two games and earned her seventh shutout of the season.
▪ Senior outside hitter Janell Walley hit a combined .527 with 32 kills in wins over Utah State and Air Force for offensive player of the week recognition. Sophomore middle blocker Jessica Donahue led the Broncos’ defensive effort with a 2.29 blocks per set average while holding opponents to a .142 attack percentage.