For the third time in 13 years, a tailback producing historic numbers has carried the Boise State football team to a memorable season.
Brock Forsey in 2002. Ian Johnson in 2006. Jay Ajayi in 2014.
Those three seasons rank first, second and third in various orders in school history in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns.
Forsey once held all four records. Johnson topped him for rushing yards. Ajayi passed him in rushing attempts. And by the end of this season, it’s possible Ajayi will have done what Forsey did — sweep all four marks.
“Those guys kind of paved the way at running back,” Ajayi said. “To be able to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys and have the possibility of breaking Ian’s (rushing) record on Saturday is just amazing.”
Those three seasons resonate beyond just the Boise State record book.
Forsey still ranks third all-time in the Football Bowl Subdivision for touchdowns in a season (32). He led the Broncos to their first WAC championship, first Top 25 season and first victory against a power-conference opponent in 2002.
Johnson might be the most famous Bronco outside of Idaho. He was the first Boise State player to crack the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting (eighth), he was the face of one of the nation’s most-beloved underdogs and he scored the game-winning two-point conversion in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
And Ajayi is on pace for one of the most productive seasons by a running back in college football history. At his current pace, he’d finish in the top five in the FBS record book in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns in a season.
“The thing they probably have most in common is a desire to be great,” said Boise State running backs coach Kent Riddle, who has coached Forsey in 2001-02, Johnson in 2004-05 and Ajayi this year. “And competitors. Tough. All the intangible things. The tangible things, hey, they’re all big, fast, strong — all that kind of stuff. They all do have a little different style, but man, hand any of those guys the ball and they’re going to find the end zone.”
Ajayi credits Riddle with improving his game this year, particularly in areas like receiving and pass protection.
“I feel like I’m leaps and bounds better,” Ajayi said. “My vision is better. I’m a lot more patient. Being able to do more for the team in other areas like catching the ball out of the backfield and pass protection. That helps our offense take it to another level as well.”
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter sees improvement, too.
“He’s more physical this year,” DeRuyter said. “He’s always been a physical back. He’s more explosive. He gets the ball in space and makes guys miss. He can run through tackles. You better have more than one guy at the point of attack because in 1-on-1s, he’s going to win more than his share of those battles. He’s a terrific weapon in the passing game. He’s a complete back. I voted for him for Offensive Player of the Year for the conference.”
Of course, Ajayi didn’t win that award. Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson did.
“Our season is not over,” Riddle said. “We’ve still got stuff to prove.
“ There’s a lot of good players, not just in our conference, but in the country, and I think (Ajayi) is certainly one of the best out there. He does everything. He catches. He blocks. He runs. He breaks tackles. He makes guys miss. I don’t know really what more you’d be looking for in a back.”
Here’s a breakdown of the three greatest seasons by running backs in Boise State history (at the bottom, you can vote for your favorite):
BROCK FORSEY, 2002
Rushing yards: 1,611 (school record at the time, now third)
Yards from scrimmage: 1,893 (record at the time, now second)
Rushing touchdowns: 26 (still the record)
Total touchdowns: 32 (still the record). This total ranks third all-time behind Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State, 1988) and Montee Ball (Wisconsin, 2011), who each scored 39.
Workload: 295 carries (record at the time, now second), 36 catches, nine kickoff returns in 13 games. A total of 344 touches (26.5 per game). He also threw two incomplete passes.
Efficiency: 5.5 yards per carry, 7.8 yards per catch, 26.0 yards per kickoff return.
Best game: Forsey rushed 27 times for 187 yards and four touchdowns in the regular-season finale at Nevada to close out a sweep of the WAC. His fourth TD tied the school’s single-season rushing record, so he went back in for one play and gained 7 yards. “I don't know who made the tackle, but I don't think there were too many (Wolf Pack defenders) alive," senior center Scott Huff — now the offensive line coach — said that day. "We told Brock if he didn't get it right there, we were going to walk off the field anyway."
Extenuating circumstances: The Broncos played four full games and parts of two others without starting quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie, who was injured. Leaning on Forsey, they still scored 45.6 points per game that season.
Team breakthrough: The Broncos went 12-1, won their first WAC title, cracked and finished in the Top 25 for the first time and beat a power-conference opponent for the first time.
Awards season: Forsey was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year.
Did you know? He’s one of seven players in Football Bowl Subdivision history with 4,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a career.
IAN JOHNSON, 2006
Rushing yards: 1,713 (still the school record)
Yards from scrimmage: 1,768
Rushing touchdowns: 25 (second)
Total touchdowns: 25 (third)
Workload: 277 carries (third), eight catches in 12 games. A total of 285 touches (23.8 per game).
Efficiency: 6.2 yards per carry, 6.9 yards per catch.
Best game: Johnson broke onto the national scene with 240 rushing yards and five touchdowns on just 22 carries against Oregon State to lead the Broncos to a 42-14 win. Boise State trailed 14-0, then Johnson scored on runs of 59, 4, 3, 19 and 50 yards. "We always knew Ian was special," then-senior center Jadon Dailey said. "He didn’t prove anything to us. We just knew what he could do, and he did it."
Extenuating circumstances: The Broncos took a run-first approach after quarterback Jared Zabransky struggled in 2005, and they did it despite a lack of tailback depth. Walk-on Brett Denton finished second on the team in carries. Johnson played through a knee injury at Utah (14 carries, 88 yards), finished a game with a partially collapsed lung that sent him to the hospital (149 rushing yards at San Jose State) and returned after one week off to rush for 147 yards and three TDs at Nevada to seal the Fiesta Bowl berth.
Team breakthrough: The Broncos went 13-0 and won their first Fiesta Bowl. Johnson scored the game-winning two-point conversion against Oklahoma, lifting the Broncos to a then-school-record No. 5 in the final AP poll.
Awards season: Johnson, an All-WAC first-teamer, finished eighth in Heisman Trophy voting — a school record at the time.
Did you know? He finished his career with more rushing yards than Forsey and still ranks second in school history with 4,183 yards. Only Cedric Minter (1977-80) has more, with 4,475.
JAY AJAYI, 2014
Rushing yards: 1,619 (second)
Yards from scrimmage: 2,155 (new school record)
Rushing touchdowns: 24 (third)
Total touchdowns: 28 (second)
Workload: 303 carries (first), 45 catches in 12 games. A total of 348 touches (29 per game).
Efficiency: 5.3 yards per carry, 11.9 yards per catch.
Best game: He rushed for 229 yards and a school-record-tying five touchdowns against Utah State to clinch the Mountain West Mountain Division. The Aggies lead the conference in rushing defense. “He’s playing at an elite level,” coach Bryan Harsin said. “The guys around him are better because of that. That’s the confidence that good players bring to a football team. What he’s done for us — it’s not just what he’s done, it’s what he’s done for this entire football team.”
Extenuating circumstances: Ajayi is so much better than any other tailback on the team that he rarely leaves the field when the game is in the balance. He has 303 carries; no other tailback has more than 25, and many of those were in mop-up duty. He also started the year with an unproven offensive line that has played much better the second half of the season.
Team breakthrough: The Broncos are on the verge of their first outright Mountain West championship and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. It’s not the best season in school history, like 2002 and 2006 were at the time, but it’s an important season because of last year’s 8-5 dud and the coaching change.
Awards season: Ajayi was named an All-Mountain West first-teamer. He has appeared on some Heisman top-10 lists.
Did you know? With five more touchdowns, Ajayi could replace Forsey at No. 3 in college football history. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon has 29 touchdowns and leads Ajayi by one this season. Ajayi also is on pace for 406 offensive touches (11th-most all-time) and 2,514 yards from scrimmage. Only three players have generated 2,500 yards in a season. Gordon also is on pace to get there.
WHERE THEY RANK
(single season, school history)
1. Ajayi, 303
2. Forsey, 295
3. Johnson, 277
1. Johnson, 1,713
2. Ajayi, 1,619
3. Forsey, 1,611
1. Forsey, 26
2. Johnson, 25
3. Ajayi, 24
1. Forsey, 32
2. Ajayi, 28
3. Johnson, 25
1. Ajayi, 2,155
2. Forsey, 2,127 (includes kick returns)
9. Johnson, 1,768
Yards per carry
8. Johnson, 6.2
NR. Forsey, 5.5
NR. Ajayi, 5.3
AJAYI’S CAREER RANKS
1. Cedric Minter, 4,475 (1977-80)
2. Ian Johnson, 4,183 (2005-08)
3. Brock Forsey, 4,045 (1999-2002)
4. Jay Ajayi, 3,592 (2012-)
1. Johnson, 58
2. Forsey, 50
3. Ajayi, 46
1. Forsey, 68
2. Johnson, 58
3. Ajayi, 51
AJAYI’S MOUNTAIN WEST RANKS
1. Chad Hall, RB, Air Force (2007), 2,683
2. Ajayi, 2,155
1. Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada (2012), 375
5. Ajayi, 303
1. Jefferson, 1,883
2. Donnel Pumphrey, SDSU (2014), 1,761
5. Ajayi, 1,619
1. Kapri Bibbs, Colorado State (2013), 31
2 (tie). Ajayi, 24
1. Kapri Bibbs, Colorado State (2013), 31
2 (tie). Ajayi, 28
1. DonTrell Moore, New Mexico (2002-05), 4,973
2. Tim Cornett, UNLV (2010-13), 3,733
3. Asher Clark, Air Force (2008-11), 3,594
4. Ajayi, 3,592
1. DonTrell Moore, New Mexico (2002-05), 51
2. Ajayi, 46
1. DonTrell Moore, New Mexico (2002-05), 59
2. Ajayi, 51
Consecutive 100-yard rushing games
1 (tie). Ajayi, 7
1 (tie). Luke Staley, BYU (2001), 7
Boise State offensive coordinator Mike Sanford on Forsey, his former teammate: “I just remember being completely in awe of what he was doing, how he was doing it, how tough he was.”
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