Boise State’s Unique Backfield: The Old and the Young


Looking through some Boise State offensive statistics in preparation for the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl on the 22nd, I came upon an obvious name: D.J. Harper. The senior halfback from Cypress, Texas spent the season filling in the shoes of the graduated feature back Doug Martin, who has found great success as a running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Harper has had a solid year: 212 carries for 1065 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. At the college level, that isn’t remarkable, but it is certainly nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that his 5.0 yards per carry average is actually .2 better than that of Washington feature back Bishop Sankey. The Husky back ran for 1234 yards, but did it in 259 opportunities, good for 4.8 yards per carry.

However, no matter their statistical parity, there is one way in which the two starting backs are completely different: experience. Sankey is a true sophomore that has at least another year to play, and unless he declares for the NFL Draft after his junior year, a second additional year of eligibility as well. Harper, however, first committed to play football in Boise as a member of the Class of 2007, and he has managed to put up on-field rushing statistics every single year since 2007. While normally a player would only have the option of being a part of a college football program for five years, one redshirt and four years of on-field play, Harper managed to play for six years without redshirting as a freshman. He actually saw the field in 2007, rushing for over 300 yards and scoring six touchdowns, but season-ending ACL tears in his third and fourth seasons as a Bronco resulted in back to back medical redshirts. Now, at the end of his sixth year, Harper is certainly playing his last game as a college football player, and I’m sure he will have plenty of motivation to cap off his long, difficult journey with a memorable performance.

Nov 3, 2012; Boise, ID, USA; Boise State Broncos running back Jay Ajayi (27) walks off the field after their game against the San Diego State Aztecs at Bronco Stadium. San Diego State won 21-19. Mandatory Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

His 5’9″ 205 pound frame isn’t particularly frightening, but his reported 4.34 forty yard dash time certainly is. Washington will certainly have to respect his speed, and perhaps even more so, his perseverance. I can’t imagine a guy that has come back from two season ending knee injuries to put up a 1,000 yard season is one to give up easily when the ball is in his hands.

That being said, there is a player behind Harper on the depth chart that Washington better know about: Jay Ajayi. The redshirt freshman from Plano, Texas is, in many ways, Harper’s opposite. 2012 is his first season seeing the field, rather than his sixth. He stands 6’0″ and weighs 222 pounds, a full 3 inches taller and 17 pounds heavier than the man starting ahead of him. And though Boise State clearly believes that Harper is the right man to receive the majority of carries, this season has made it clear that Ajayi is the future.

In only 78 carries, he has racked up 541 yards and scored 4 touchdowns. While those totals aren’t amazing, some quick division reveals that Ajayi has averaged an astounding 6.9 yards per carry in his limited opportunities. While it isn’t safe to assume that he could keep up that sort of average while receiving 200+ carries, the Huskies will have to remember not to relax when Harper subs out: his backup may be more dangerous. If you give that kid 10 carries, he will get 50 yards. In fact, he did just that in his last three games: He totaled over 50 yards rushing without double digit carries. Against New Mexico early in the season, he racked up 118 yards in 6 carries. While New Mexico’s rushing defense is certainly not equal to Washington’s, it will be key that the Huskies prepare for the unique running styles of both players to be successful this Saturday.

I’ll be looking at other elements of this Boise State team throughout this week in preparation for Saturday’s bowl game. As always, thanks for reading, and if you have something to add, feel free to comment below.