Boise State Broncos
Photo via Pam Davis

Boise State Broncos: Running game (slowly) bringing balance

It’s no secret the running game of the Boise State Broncos has struggled to electrify in 2018. It has, however, found effectiveness in recent weeks.

The running crew — and the entire Boise State team — will face a stiff test when they host the Fresno State Bulldogs on Friday night.

Fresno State enters the game ranked 23rd in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. And they are currently favored to win on Friday, marking the first time this century that the Broncos will be an underdog at home in a conference game.

The Bulldogs have one of the best defenses in the nation and it might be the wrong week to expect the Broncos to suddenly put up amazing numbers on the ground.

Junior running back Alexander Mattison has crossed the 100-yard mark only twice in 2018. He has totaled 726 yards with 10 touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per carry.

Getting better as a season goes along, though, is a positive sign and Mattison’s numbers have jumped in the last three games. He’s carried the ball 67 times for 310 yards — including 136 against Air Force — and averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Mattison is coming off a 25-carry, 89-yard game against the BYU Cougars. Considering he only had nine carries for 17 yards at halftime, Mattison finished with respectable numbers. He also caught five passes for 40 yards.

Though Boise State produced only one touchdown in the second half of the BYU game, the running game was efficient. Between Mattison and Robert Mahone, the Broncos were able to control the clock and even sprinkle in a few big gains.

The six-yard gains as of late have been nice, but it’s time to stop balancing those out with no, or negative, gains.

Boise State Broncos backfield

Mattison continues to get the bulk of the carries, but Mahone has factored in the last two games as well.

Mahone has carried the ball seven times for 36 yards the last two weeks and has been running like a man on a mission. He also had three catches for 17 yards against BYU as it appeared the Broncos were making a conscious effort to involve the running backs in the passing game.

This is an element that we used to see factor heavily in play calling. Maybe it’s ready to make a comeback, which would be an added bonus in preparing for Fresno State.

Receivers have also played a part in the running game, at least until last week. John Hightower has 163 yards on the ground and two touchdowns while Khalil Shakir has 76 yards.

Changes on the right side of the offense line has also been part of the reason for this slight improvement. John Ojukwu and Donte Harrington have been doing a solid job since joining the starting lineup.

A 100-yard game from Mattison — or even Mahone, if he gets more opportunities — would be nice against Fresno State. If the team is able to go above 150 in rushing yards, the Broncos stand a good shot at winning.

That’s going to be no easy task.

Fresno State run defense

Getting the Boise State running game going is one thing. Doing it against one of the better defenses in the country is going to make the task even harder.

The Bulldogs defense enters Friday’s game allowing 128 rushing yards per game, on 3.6 yards per carry. The most they’ve allowed in a game was last week against UNLV, in which the run-focused offense of the Rebels produced 197 rushing yards.

Most of the time, however, teams hover between the 120-130 rushing yards per game. The lowest the Bulldogs allowed was to Hawaii, which gained 88 yards on the ground.

Hawaii was also the last team to score more than seven points against the Bulldogs, dropping 20. Fresno State has allowed 3, 3, 7, 20, and 3 points in their last five games.

Fresno State’s top-three tacklers are all linebackers, combining for 184 tackles in 2018. Junior Jeff Allison leads with 84, while seniors James Bailey and George Helmuth have 50 apiece.

Up front, Mykal Walker has nine sacks and 48 tackles.

Allison had ten tackles in last season’s Mountain West Conference title game. In the 17-14 Boise State win, the Broncos managed only 109 yards running the ball. Mattison totaled fifty yards on the ground before leaving with an injury.

In the 28-17 Bulldog victory over the Broncos last season, Boise State had 107 yards on the ground. Mattison had 63 on 15 carries.

Not exactly the numbers one wants to see. Brett Rypien and the passing game will have a tough test test as well so getting the ground game going will be a must.

It’s been efficient, but now is the time to turn up the production to electrifying.


About Jason Haskins

Jason is a 2001 graduate of Boise State and has been an avid fan of Boise State Athletics since the late 90's. Originally from Spring Creek, NV, Jason grew up a fan of the Fred Gatlin era Nevada Wolf Pack, but immediately switched his allegiances while attending school at Boise State. He hasn't looked back since and remains a loyal supporter of Boise State. For more:

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