Boise State Football

Boise State’s run game comes to life in second half to overcome scrappy San Jose State

Boise State running backs George Holani and Andrew Van Buren set career highs for rushing yards on Saturday night and the Broncos rushed for six touchdowns in a game for the first time since 2016 in a 52-42, come-from-behind win at San Jose State.

Facing the 125th-ranked run defense in the country, the Broncos felt there would be some holes to exploit. But it took a half for the ground game to get going.

With a little more than 12 minutes left in the third quarter, Boise State had just 25 yards on the ground. The No. 21 Broncos (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West) finished with a season-high 253.

“I think just getting into a better rhythm and calling it and sticking to it,” Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin of the difference in the second half after his club had just 17 yards on the ground by halftime. “I think committing to it, the backs getting into a rhythm, and I thought the O-line really got into a rhythm.”

[Related: Instant Analysis: Bachmeier sparks Broncos in return; Broncos inspired by NFL legend; scoring summary, tweets from Saturday’s game]

Holani, a true freshman, racked up 113 of his season-high 126 yards in the second half, and three of his four rushing touchdowns were scored after halftime. It was his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. He posted 103 against Marshall and just missed the mark with 97 against BYU.

Holani’s 6-yard touchdown burst with 9:13 left in the third quarter cut San Jose State’s lead to 27-24. He capped a nine-play scoring drive with another 6-yard touchdown, which put the Broncos back on top, 38-34, early in the fourth quarter after DeJon Packer’s second rushing touchdown put the Spartans ahead late in the third.

“I thought he showed toughness. I thought he showed his durability. I thought he showed great vision,” Harsin said of Holani. “George is a guy that since the day he showed up, he’s provided nothing but positiveness to our football team. He loves the game. He practices that way. He plays that way. So, I love when George is on the field.”

Van Buren scored the longest rushing touchdown of the night with a 32-yarder, which gave Boise State a 45-34 lead with 6:24 to play. It was his second of the season.

Earlier, backup quarterback Chase Cord came in and immediately scored on an 8-yard keeper, which put Boise State on top 31-27. It was the Broncos’ first lead of the game. Starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who missed the previous game at BYU with a hip pointer, had been shaken up on the play immediately before Cord’s TD. Bachmeier missed a few plays while having his throwing arm checked out.

“Obviously Chase is capable of going in there and making plays, and he did,” Harsin said. “And I was really proud of Andrew Van Buren. He came in tonight and I thought Andrew had the game he needed to have.”

It was a good thing the Broncos’ running game got rolling when it did because the Spartans’ offense, and quarterback Josh Love in particular, came out firing on all cylinders. By the time kicker Matt Mercurio hit the first of his two field goals on the night with 12:01 left in the first half, San Jose State was sitting on a 17-7 advantage.

“They did a good job going out there and just making the plays they needed to make,” Boise State nickel Kekaula Kaniho said. “They’re a really good team. Their quarterback made all the throws he needed to make tonight and receivers were catching everything thrown their way.”

It was the second week in a row that San Jose State (4-5, 1-4 MWC) jumped out to an early lead. Last weekend against Army, Love led the Spartans to touchdowns on all five of their first-half drives.

The Spartans opened Saturday’s game with back-to-back touchdown drives.

“It’s obviously disappointing for us because there were moments in that game where we felt like we had a real chance to get it done,” San Jose State coach Brent Brennan said. “I thought Josh Love was brilliant again and (wide receivers) Tre Walker and Bailey Gaither came up with huge plays time and time again.”

Love finished the game 29-of-53 for a season-high 438 yards and two passing touchdowns. His 16-yard strike to Isaiah Hamilton sent the Spartans into halftime with a 24-17 lead.

Walker finished with nine catches for a career-high 193 yards, and he was one of two SJSU wide receivers to finish with 100 yards. Gaither added eight catches for 110 yards and a 9-yard touchdown catch, which cut Boise State’s lead to 45-42 after Love found Walker in the end zone for a two-point conversion with 3:56 to play.

“I’m proud of our team. I thought we played really hard,” Brennan said. “We have a good team. We can play with everybody, but that situation there is a situation where we’ve got to find a way to finish. It’s disappointing.”

With San Jose State out of timeouts and Boise State staring at first-and-goal with 1:38 remaining, the Broncos could have taken a couple of knees and called it a night. Instead, Holani burst through the middle of the defense for his fourth touchdown of the night.

After the game, Harsin said with the way his offense was rolling and how San Jose State’s offense was clicking, he wasn’t going to risk taking his foot off the gas.

“Our guys at that point, they were not backing off. Nobody was backing off,” Harsin said. “The way (San Jose State) was scoring, we’ll put points on the board and trust nothing.”

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Ron Counts is the Boise State beat writer for the Idaho Statesman. He’s a Virginia native and spent that past three years covering University of Virginia.
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