Andrew Van Buren

Boise State running back Andrew Van Buren (21) breaks a tackle by San Jose State defensive lineman Demanuel Talauati (54) during a game against San Jose State.

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BOISE — The running game finally clicked in the second half for the Boise State football team in last week’s 52-42 win at San Jose State.

A much bigger challenge awaits them on Saturday.

Boise State rushed for a season-high 253 yards against the Spartans, with 236 of them coming in the second half. The Broncos had six rushing touchdowns.

But San Jose State had one of the worst rush defenses in the country. Wyoming has one of the best.

The Broncos host the Cowboys on Saturday at 8;15 p.m. with hopes of keeping the momentum rolling on the ground. But Wyoming’s defense ranks No. 9 in yards per carry at 2.8 and No. 14 with an average of just 98.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

They Cowboys have only given up seven rushing touchdowns all season, which ranks No. 13.

“They’ve always been that way,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “I think it’s schematics, I think it’s their players. I think it’s the mentality of their defense. We don’t want 2.8 yards per carry. That’s not our goal and we’re certainly going to do everything we can to not let that happen.

“That’s something they’ve done for quite some time now. … That’s what makes them difficult to play against.”

Boise State has struggled at times running the football this season, but the emergence of George Holani has made a difference of late. He rushed for 126 yards and four touchdowns on a career-high 28 carries against San Jose State.

The Broncos should also get a boost from the return of starter Robert Mahone, who missed the San Jose State game due to injury but is expected back against the Cowboys. Andrew Van Buren is coming off the best game of his career after rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

“It’s a physical, run-stopping defense,” Boise State offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “That’s what they want to do. We’ve got to be physical right back. We feel like we’ve got a good run game and that we can be physical up front and that’s always going to be part of our game plan.”

But the numbers are a bit deceiving when it comes to Wyoming’s rush defense stats, which could hint at success for the Broncos. When you take away 26 sacks for -189 rushing yards and four team rushes (kneels) for -10 yards, opponents have actually ‘rushed’ for 986 yards in eight games. That’s an average of 123.25 per game, or roughly 25 yards per game better than the listed average of 98.4.

Their opponents yards per carry also goes up by more than a yard to 3.83 per rush when you take out the sack yardage.

Regardless, the Cowboys are solid against the run and should provide a big challenge for the Broncos.

“I told our players, that’s what they are good at, but you have to find a way,” Harsin said. “It’s not like we can’t go out there and run the ball. We have to be able to run the ball, so how are we going to go defeat that? What are we going to do this week?”

SHAKIR FINE WITH LIMITED ACTION

Wide receiver Khalil Shakir leads Boise State with 32 catches, but has just six combined in the last three games. Against San Jose State last week he had two catches for 25 yards.

“It’s a game plan,” Shakir said. “If we go in there and we’re running the ball well we’re going to keep running it. There’s no need to switch it up and try and pass when George and Andrew are doing their thing on the ground. If that’s the plan and we’re going to run the ball, I’ll go out there and block my butt off.”

Shakir did have one kick return, one punt return and one carry against the Spartans.

“It’s always great to get the ball in my hands,” Shakir said. “I love it.”

With his skillset it would seem to make sense for the Broncos to do that more often moving forward.

WEAVER NOT THINKING ABOUT FUTURE

Redshirt junior STUD Curtis Weaver could potentially be playing the final two home games of his career the next two weeks. Most expect him to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft next season.

Asked if he had thought about the possibility of these being his final two home games, Weaver laughed and said, “No, no, not at all. I’m just focusing week by week.”

BRONCO BITS

Roy Philpott, Kelly Stouffer and Lauren Sisler will broadcast Saturday’s game for ESPN. Kick off is set for 8:21 p.m. … Wyoming is coming off a bye week. Last season the Broncos also played Wyoming after the Cowboys had a bye. This will be the 12th time since the Broncos joined the league in 2011 that they are playing an opponent that is coming off a bye. Only Nevada (13) has done it more. … The Cowboys (6-2) have lost their two games by a combined seven points.

This article originally ran on idahopress.com.

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