Playing on the road in the wind and the rain against an opponent that has struggled to stop the run, No. 14 Boise State wanted to lean on the ground game in Saturday’s rivalry game at BYU.
That plan took a hit early as junior running back Robert Mahone suffered what looked like a leg injury while picking up a blitzing defender on the Broncos’ third drive of the game. He did not return.
That left true freshman George Holani to carry the load, and carry it he did. Holani’s 20 carries were second only to his 22 against Marshall earlier this season, and his 97 rushing yards were only a few shy of the career-high 103 he put up against the Thundering Herd. On the Broncos’ first drive of the third quarter, his number was called five times, and he finished the game averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
“That’s just his nature. He wants the ball in his hands, and he wants to be the guy to go make plays like that for this team,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said after the 28-25 loss. “And I think those are the guys we have. Those are the guys we’re trying to bring into this program.”
Holani was coming off a three-touchdown game against Hawaii, which included a 40-yard sprint to the end zone. Saturday’s performance gave him a team-high 463 rushing yards, and he continues to chase former Boise State wide receiver Titus Young’s record 705 yards from scrimmage by a true freshman in the FBS era. Holani is sitting at 551 with five regular-season games remaining.
“He’s a young player and he’s still learning a lot of things, but that guy is going to go hard, that guy is going to work, that guy is going to give you everything he’s got and we see that every game,” Harsin said.
Evans has a career night
Heading into Saturday’s game at BYU, Boise State wide receiver Octavius Evans had just seven receptions on the season. In LaVell Edwards Stadium, the junior from Center, Texas, set career highs in receptions (five) and receiving yards (77), and he caught his first touchdown pass of the season.
“We already knew what Octavius was capable of, and he showed it tonight,” Boise State wide receiver CT Thomas said. “He’s always working hard and he’s always trying to get better each day, so it was just a matter of time for him to have a good game like he had today.”
Evans didn’t catch a pass last weekend against Hawaii, nor did he catch any in Boise State’s wins over Portland State and Air Force. On Saturday, three of his catches came as the Broncos tried to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter, including his 13-yard touchdown catch, which cut BYU’s lead to 10 points.
He also played a pivotal role in Boise State’s final scoring drive. Evans hauled in a 32-yard pass from quarterback Chase Cord to move the ball into BYU territory and moved the chains a couple plays later with an 11-yard grab, which put the ball on the Cougars’ 29. That drive ended with Cord finding Akilian Butler on a 5-yard scoring strike, which brought the Broncos within three points with 3:17 to play.
At 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, Evans gives the Broncos a little extra size and physicality on the outside. On a night like Saturday when Butler, Thomas and John Hightower combined for just four catches for 31 yards, he also became Boise State’s big-play threat.
“We’ve seen him coming on the last couple years. Sometimes the ball doesn’t always go his way — there’s some other good receivers out there,” Harsin said. “Tonight, it was his opportunity to shine. He made plays, and I’m proud of him for that.”
Weaver closing in on sacks milestone
Boise State STUD Curtis Weaver already owns the Mountain West Conference career sacks record and, on Saturday, he took another step toward eclipsing one of the Broncos’ greatest pass rushers of all time.
Against BYU, Weaver shared a sack with Benton Wickersham. That gave Weaver 30 sacks in his career, which left him just two shy of former Boise State defensive end Chris Wing’s 32. Wing is No. 2 all-time in program history behind Erik Helgeson, who finished his college career with 54.5.
Weaver’s half a sack also tied him with Ohio State’s Chase Young for the most in the country with 9.5. Despite BYU’s struggles to keep its quarterbacks upright this season, the Broncos managed just two on Saturday night. Weaver and many of his cohorts in the front seven were just a step away from a handful more, though.
“A sack in the first quarter, a sack in the second quarter, they could have killed a drive,” Boise State defensive tackle David Moa said. “So, it could have potentially changed the game like how (the Cougars) were capitalizing on their big plays and third downs.”
Boise State kicker Eric Sachse made a 38-yard field goal late in the first half with a crooked goalpost. The goalpost in the south end zone appeared to be leaning heavily to the right. It was adjusted before the game and could have been knocked out of alignment by the wind. The goalpost was fixed at halftime.
Sachse missed a 36-yard field goal in the third quarter after a high snap. He also was kicking into the wind. It was his first miss inside 42 yards this season. He was 9-for-9 previously.
What about the weather?
The rain and wind started during warmups and came and went throughout Saturday’s game. It didn’t seem to have a major impact on the play — neither team had a fumble — but Thomas said it did affect the Broncos.
“The weather got to us a little bit,” Thomas said. “We weren’t focusing on executing. We were focusing on staying warm.”
Boise State wore orange pants, white jerseys and blue helmets. ... Boise State added a new flag for the team entrance — white with a pink ribbon representing breast cancer awareness. It was carried by Butler, whose mom died of breast cancer in the spring. The flag is in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. ... Nose tackle Sonatane Lui carried the Hammer. ... Junior offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland was Boise State’s single-game captain. ... BYU won the coin toss and deferred. ... Thomas’ rushing touchdown in the first quarter marked the eighth Bronco to rush for a TD this season, the most since 2013. ... Starting safety Kekoa Nawahine left the game on BYU’s first drive and didn’t return. ... The attendance was 58,930.