McNichols takes lead in No. 23 Boise State's running game
BOISE, Idaho (AP) Jeremy McNichols is thrilled to have only one position to worry about.
As a freshman last season, Boise State tried to take advantage of his running and pass catching. It led to an awkward slash role when deep down McNichols wanted to be a running back.
The debut to his sophomore season Friday night against Washington showed McNichols is capable of being the featured running option for the No. 23 Broncos.
''It feels great they're featuring me,'' McNichols said after rushing for 89 yards and two touchdowns in Boise State's 16-13 season opening win. ''Playing running back full-time is a lot better because I can put my mind to one thing and focus on it.''
How Boise State was going to replace Jay Ajayi was one of the biggest questions heading into the season. Ajayi finished with 1,823 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns last year, numbers that would appear impossible for just one back to try and replicate.
And it was clear from the start that it will be a group effort for the Broncos. McNichols was the workhorse with 24 carries, but Stanford transfer Kelsey Young and Devan Demas got their share of turns in the backfield.
Young finished with 48 yards on 13 carries, while Demas averaged 5 yards per carry in limited action.
''I thought all three of them had their moments in the game,'' Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. ''We will have learned something about our running backs after watching them play and watching them play in our offense this year and the style that we are playing with and what that means moving forward.''
The advantage for whoever is carrying the ball for the Broncos is running behind an offensive line that started two seniors and two juniors against the Huskies and for a half dominating the line of scrimmage.
''They get off the ball and make holes and that makes it easy for us,'' McNichols said.
If there was a frustration, it was Boise State's inability to sustain what was accomplished in the first half. McNichols ran for 70 of his 89 yards in the first two quarters. The Broncos had 152 yards rushing in the first half, but managed 33 yards in the second half. Boise State had four three-and-out drives in the second half after having scoring drives of 16, 13 and 11 plays in the first half.
Part of that was a pass game that struggled and allowed Washington's defense to stack the line against the run. Ryan Finley was 16 of 26 for 129 yards, but the Broncos were unable to push the ball downfield.
Harsin knows it won't be easy to become consistent on offense, and it won't get any easier with a game coming up this weekend at BYU.
''We've got to be more balanced and that's a matter of watching and learning from what we did in this game,'' Harsin said, ''and coaches and players evaluating that and going back and improving in those areas.''