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As is the case with the Boise State offensive line, the question with the Bronco running backs is one of dominance. We have seen what the backs can do. Can they explode through the line in every game, no matter who the opponent is and no matter what the situation?

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The 2009 Bronco football season presented a change at the running back position.  For the first time in four years, there was to be no Ian Johnson crouched in a three-point-stance behind the quarterback, forcing opposing defenses to game plan around him. And for the first time since the 2007 Fiesta Bowl -as far as the rest of the nation was concerned, anyway- Boise State was lacking a marquee name at the position, a return to normalcy in their eyes. Boise State wasn't proven enough at the running back position to simply reload, they thought. Good thing nobody forwarded that memo to Jeremy Avery, DJ Harper, or Doug Martin.  

Last season, the Boise State running game reached a new plateau, turning in the 26th best ground attack in the nation. They boasted 2,605 yards on the season, which was good for 186 yards per game and a per-carry average of 5.13 yards. They found the end zone while pounding the rock an impressive 30 times. This proved a marked improvement over 2008's numbers.  In 2008, BSU finished with the 54th best rushing attack in the FBS with 1,980 rushing yards, 28 TD's, 152 yards per game, and a 4.41 yards per carry average. While it is clear that running backs Ian Johnson (and Brock Forsey before him) put a name and face to the position at Boise State , never before had there been such depth. Never before had there been three legitimate starting tailbacks on the roster, all selflessly sharing the load.  Never before had Boise State lined up against the third best rush defense in the country in a goal-line situation and run right through them for a Fiesta Bowl winning touchdown.  

Enter junior tailback Doug Martin.  In his early days on the scout team, Doug Martin was once described as an angry runner.  If anything has changed over the two years since, he's only become angrier and what makes him more dangerous yet, is that it seems he's learned to channel his bursts of ‘anger'.  Doug Martin embodies the Boise State team mentality. Martin switched from running back to nickel back when it appeared that there may actually be too much depth in the backfield just to get a spot and contribute. And contribute he did. When fellow tailback DJ Harper went down against Fresno State in Week 3, Martin answered the call again, this time returning to his natural position at RB and never looking back. Actually, he probably looked back as he flipped into the end zone during January's Fiesta Bowl against TCU--unless he had his eyes closed.  

The ‘starter' at tailback for Boise State is Jeremy Avery, meaning he gets the first carries of the game and that's about where the similarities to a traditional starter end. To put it another way, it appears as though Boise State has finally mastered the longevity-promoting ‘running back by committee' strategy. Some might say that Mr. Avery is diminutive in size, but what he lacks in the scary looks department, he more than makes up for in the on-field production department.  That is pretty much all they care about around here.  In 2009, Avery amassed a team-high 1,151 net yards on the ground with 6 TD's and a (what more could you seriously ask for) 5.5 yard per carry average--not bad for a dude that checks in at 5'9", 179 lbs. It is likely that Jeremy Avery will again be tabbed as the ‘starter', although the coaching staff has made no formal announcements.  

Last season, the Broncos ran with a two back rotation for most of the year and DJ Harper was part of that rotation from the beginning. Unfortunately, his season was short-lived as he suffered a torn ACL in the middle of an outstanding Week 3 performance against Fresno State . How did he do up until that point?  Keeping in mind all the talent at the position, DJ only managed to lead the team in rushing yardage, rushing touchdowns, and yards-per-carry with a 6.5 yard average--a number that lead all Bronco backs for the season.  Many consider DJ Harper to be the most complete RB on the team and should he remain healthy for the 2010, this will be his year to shine.   

Behind the big three, you might think there would be a bunch of scrubs… and you would be wrong.  There are more proven backs waiting in the wings: Guys like Matt Kaiserman who came off the bench in 2009 and had multiple 100+ yard rushing games between season-opening and season-ending injuries. But wait, there's more!  Beyond MJ and Kaiserman, there are yet more support guys-guys who spell ‘I' like this: T-E-A-M. Guys like sophomore Carlo Audagnotti, Senior Jarvis Hodge, and Sophomore Drew Wright. All of these guys bleed blue and all are more than capable of carrying the load, should their number be called. There is one other guy as-yet unmentioned: sophomore Raphiel Lambert. He is new to this position as a Bronco and was perhaps inspired by Doug Martin before him. Prior to spring ball earlier this year, Raphiel made the switch to RB from cornerback in an effort to get on the field more and contribute. Coach Petersen seems to believe in this move and speaks of his running tendencies in baseball terms, oddly enough. "He's out-slowing people," Petersen said. "He's a curveball thrower. He's got some shake, it's kind of slow shake, but it works."  

To open the 2010 season, the Bronco running backs will face the 25th and 40th ranked run defenses from 2009 ( Oregon State and Virginia Tech respectively) before beginning WAC play against the usual suspects. The highest ranked run defense in the WAC last season was Nevada which finished 22nd, allowing a stingy 111 yards per game on the ground. The Broncos had read about Nevada 's stingy run defense ahead of time, but paid no attention, gaining 165 yards on 33 carries for a nice, round 5.0 yards per carry. After Nevada , WAC run defenses drop off significantly, with the next highest-ranked being Idaho (70th nationally), a team that gave up 155 yards per game and almost 5 yards per carry. Maybe in a different lifetime running backs Coach Keith Bhonapha might take those kinds of rushing stats on a weekly basis with no questions asked, but that's not how these guys roll. Not at Boise State . They'll expect more, and because of that, they'll get more.  

The bottom line for the coming season is there won't be many games where the Broncos merely achieve their opponents' per game average on the ground. With so many major contributors returning, this stable of backs–led by Boise State 's ever-improving offensive line–are poised for yet another breakout season.  One thing you can count on is that with four proven 100-yard-per-game runners from 2009 chomping at the bit, 2010 is set up to be a great year on the ground for this National Championship-minded squad from Boise . This year's version of the ground game is perhaps the greatest we've ever seen at Boise State .  



Broncosports.com; the spring prospectus

NCAA.com/statistics/; college football season statistical info

Coach Petersen quote taken from the Idaho Statesman:

http://voices.idahostatesman.com/2010/04/13/ccripe/competition _cornerback_and_other_spring_notes


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