BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols admitted that last season he didn’t spend as much time in the film room or with his offensive line. He’s changed that this year and it’s paying big dividends.
McNichols rushed for 206 yards and a career-high four touchdowns to power No. 22 Boise State past UNLV 42-25 on Friday night.
Boise State (10-1, 6-1) kept its Mountain West title hopes alive and reached 10 victories for the second time in three seasons under head coach Bryan Harsin. After passing Western Michigan in the College Football Playoff rankings this week, the Broncos also remained in contention for a Cotton Bowl berth.
McNichols set a school record for the most 200-yard rushing games in a single season with his third.
“You have to know your offensive line well,” McNichols said. “And last year I didn’t watch as much film with them or spend as much time around them. But I changed that this year.
“Now even at our walk throughs, I’ll go over and see what they’re talking about. Having a good relationship with your offensive line is huge. When they mean something and you show them they mean something, they feel like they scored a touchdown with you. They run down the field to try and catch me. It’s fun.”
The Rebels (4-7, 3-4), who lost for fifth time in five tries at Boise State, didn’t have much fun trying to stop McNichols, who entered the game as the nation’s fifth-leading rusher.
“(McNichols) did a good job of bouncing to the outside and breaking contain,” UNLV coach Tony Sanchez said. “We had him dead to rights a few times, but just weren’t able to tackle in space. And that killed us.”
UNLV’s offense, which was missing leading receiver Devonte Boyd due to a broken hand suffered last week, didn’t have any better luck either, managing only 302 yards of total offense, their second-lowest output of the season.
Harsin said he planned on emphasizing the ground game against UNLV, but things went better than expected.
We came in here with the game plan to run the ball,” Harsin said, “But the way Jeremy was just running it, when he’s hot like that, you want to keep getting it to him.”
McNichols, a junior who could follow in the footsteps of former teammate and Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi and enter the draft after the season, said his last regular season game at home seemed different.
“I said before the game that something felt special about tonight,” McNichols said. “When you get in that groove, you feel like every touch could go the distance. And it felt like that tonight.”
After UNLV converted a fumble into a field goal on Boise State’s opening possession, the Broncos went on a 19-play, 74-yard drive – their longest of the season – and took a 7-3 lead on quarterback Brett Rypien’s 1-yard run.
The Broncos followed that drive up with their shortest after a 73-yard punt return by Cedrick Wilson set up Boise State’s offense at the UNLV 6. On the only play of the drive the Broncos ran, McNichols bounced outside and won a footrace to the corner of the end zone for the touchdown, giving Boise State a 14-3 first quarter lead.
That early lead helped set the tone for Boise State as UNLV never really threatened to make the game competitive.
Rypien finished with 109 yards on 10-of-20 passing. Career receiving leader Thomas Sperbeck had five catches for 47 yards in his final regular-season home game.
UNLV’s Kurt Palandech passed for 113 yards, completing 10 of 20 passes. He also led the team in rushing with 64 yards.
UNLV: The Rebels have already topped last season’s win total of three games, but they will look to finish strong with a win in their finale next Saturday. With a victory, the Rebels could lock up second place in the West division and set their eyes on getting bowl eligible next year.
Boise State: The Broncos’ defense delivered one of their most dominant performances of the season as the entire team seems to peaking at the right time. In the three games since its last-minute loss on the road at Wyoming, Boise State has committed only one turnover and averaged more than 48 points a game, while limiting opponents to just over 21.
Boise State isn’t likely to impress the voters much with the victory, though the easy win shouldn’t cost them any votes either. Don’t expect the Broncos to move up in the poll much as most of the teams in front to them are all favored to win handily Saturday.
UNLV: The Rebels host in-state rival Nevada in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Boise State: The Broncos will travel to Air Force for their final regular-season tilt in a must-win game to keep their division title hopes alive.
McNichols entered the game leading the nation in scoring with 132 points. His four touchdowns put him at 156 points, 36 more than the next closest player. He also took the leading in rushing touchdowns with 22 for the season. However, he’s still 42 points shy of the school single season record of 192.