BOISE, Idaho (AP) Boise State is rediscovering the beauty of having two running backs to move the chains and wear down opposing defenses.
In the last three games, D.J. Harper and Jay Ajayi have given foes fits and have carried the load for an offense still working through the kinks of a new quarterback and young receivers.
Harper, a sixth-year senior, and Ajayi, a redshirt freshman, proved the point Saturday in No. 24 Boise State's 20-10 victory over Fresno State. The tandem combined for 233 yards rushing, more than two-thirds of the team's total offensive output, against a Bulldog defense ranked third in the Mountain West Conference for yards rushing allowed.
Harper had 122 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown, his third game with more than 100 yards, while Ajayi added 91 yards on a career-high 15 carries.
"For us to run for five yards per carry and over 200 yards ... that's progress," coach Chris Petersen said.
Harper, who has had two seasons ended by knee injuries, is averaging 91.5 yards per game this year as the workhorse. But Petersen has always preferred having more than one tailback to share the load and throw defenses off balance by having to adjust to different running styles.
The combination of Harper and Ajayi is doing just that.
Ajayi, at 6 feet, 220 pounds, provides a big, tackle-breaking presence on the inside, but he also has the ability to bounce outside for long gains. Ajayi is averaging 8.1 yards per carry this season in four games and had his best performance three weeks ago at New Mexico when he rushed for 118 yards on six carries, including a 71-yard run. His performance Saturday earned the team's offensive player of the week honor.
Harper is more elusive, and his quickness enables him to exploit even the smallest holes. He showed that burst against Fresno State (4-3, 2-1 Mountain West) when he hit a hole in the line, spun away from a defender and sprinted down the sideline for a 28-yard touchdown that put the Broncos up 17-0 just before the half.
Harper also is a threat in the passing game and is tied for fourth on the team with 11 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
"You have to have a 1-2 punch," Petersen said after Saturday's win. "You're not going to have the type of running game we want to have if you don't."
The Broncos probably wouldn't be 5-1 without their potent running game.
The passing game has shown flashes of promise through the first half of the season, but junior quarterback Joe Southwick and a young receiving corps have yet to consistently carve up secondaries and put up points in bunches like Boise State teams of the past.
Southwick was 11 of 22 passing for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs, but the ability of Harper and Ajayi to chew up yardage in big chunks negated the need for Southwick to do much more.
Still, Petersen said he's confident the passing game will continue to improve in the second half of the season.
"Overall, I feel better about our offense after this game. That's a very good defense we played against," Petersen said. "That's a hard team to throw the ball on and a hard team to move the ball on and score points."