UTEP Boise St Football

Boise State running back George Holani (24) runs with the ball during the game against UTEP on Sept. 10.

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BOISE — The always positive Winston Venable has no doubt Boise State’s rushing numbers will soon improve.

We’ll see if his running backs can prove him right.

Boise State’s second-year running backs coach acknowledged the numbers don’t look great through four games, but he’s seen signs recently that his group is about ready to take off.

“I think the running backs are doing a great job,” Venable said. “There are all sorts of things they’ve been improving on week to week. I think those guys maybe had a little bit of a slower start to the run game in the beginning of the year, but each week there’s been some steady improvement there.”

Boise State ranks No. 120 of 130 FBS teams in rushing at just 87.5 yards per game. It’s even worse — No. 126 — in yards per rush at just 2.50.

Through four games, the Broncos have just 350 rushing yards. They have only 12 runs of at least 10 yards, which ranks 114th, and they are one of just 19 teams nationally with no runs of at least 30 yards.

Simply put — the Broncos are currently on pace for one of the worst rushing seasons in program history.

“It’s just been a slower start, but we have a long season to go and I’m looking forward to that,” Venable said. “We’re not in a bad spot offensively. We’re growing and getting better each week and I have full confidence that there’s going to be some games out here that the run numbers are going to be where they need to be and be nice and high and it’s going to look good.

“The first couple games is not weighing down on us. We’re improving and getting better. The running back room is positive right now and those guys are confident. It’s a long season, this thing just got rolling.”

George Holani, who rushed for 1,014 yards as a freshman in 2019 but was limited due to injuries last season, leads the Broncos with just 96 yards on 30 carries. The second leading rusher? Former walk-on Tyler Crowe, who earned a scholarship last week and has 65 yards on just 10 carries.

Oregon transfer Cyrus Habibi-Likio has 60 yards on 26 carries, while Andrew Van Buren has 38 yards on 21 carries.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Venable said. “These guys have been doing real well and are improving each week. I think we’re just getting going. As far as maybe the numbers or statistics, they haven’t been there from the outside looking in, but all that will come. It’s early in the season.”

Boise State rushed for just 20 yards in a loss to UCF and 61 yards in a loss to Oklahoma State. The Broncos had slightly better numbers in two lopsided wins against UTEP (121 yards) and Utah State (148 yards), but a good chunk of those yards came in the second halves with the score not in doubt.

An issue for Boise State has been rushing on third down. The Broncos have 20 rushes for just 30 yards on third down this year. On third-and-3 or shorter, the Broncos have nine rushes for 22 yards and only picked up the first down on five of the nine attempts.

“No negative runs,” Venable said of areas needing improvement. “That’s a team effort from the offensive line, the tight ends, the running backs. Everything has to be on point to where we don’t have any negative runs. That’s going to be a goal of ours in the running backs room.”

Boise State got creative to try and get the running game going last week at Utah State. The Broncos gave 18 carries to non-running backs, including seven from quarterback Hank Bachmeier, six from wide receiver Khalil Shakir and three to CT Thomas.

The Broncos had 87 rushing yards from non-running backs and 65 yards from running backs against the Aggies.

The Broncos used the wildcat formation on eight plays in which the snap went directly to a running back or wide receiver and also handed the ball off on fly sweeps and even a reverse.

One bright spot from the running backs has been Van Buren’s production in the red zone. He has a team-high four rushing touchdowns while getting the ball as part of Boise State’s jumbo package near the goal line.

“Drew is just one of those types of guys we know in a big-time situation like that, he’s going to get the job done,” Venable said. “He’s proven to be that guy for us. Drew has really taken ownership of that role and does really well at that role and has made that role his and has done an elite job compared to the other guys.”

Regardless of Venable’s confidence in the running game, it needs to be better moving forward. And he didn’t deny it.

“Championship teams, they aren’t going to just be a pass only offense,” Venable said. “It has to be balanced. ... To win football games you have to have some type of run game.”

Boise State had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the 11 seasons prior to the pandemic-shortened 2020. The Broncos finished dead last in the Mountain West in rushing last year, and are currently in the bottom spot again this year.

Venable predicts the numbers will soon improve — but said winning remains the most important thing.

“The win column outweighs the rushing column,” Venable said. “I don’t think that ever overrides the ultimate goal of winning a Mountain West Conference Championship. I can guarantee you if we win the Mountain West Championship without (strong rushing numbers), then we’ll be just as happy.

“We are team players in that room. Sure it would be awesome to have a 1,000-yard rusher or a couple thousand yards amongst the group, but ultimately when it comes down to it, let’s win some ballgames.”

As for having a 1,000-yard rusher? Venable hasn’t given up on it just yet.

“You never know,” Venable said. “We could still pull that off.”

This article originally ran on idahopress.com.

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