Boise State left the swim trunks home.
“I don’t think it’s about going to the beach, it’s not about those things and that’s one of the things about going to Hawaii and playing,” coach Bryan Harsin said Thursday about the No. 24 Broncos’ trip to face Hawaii on Saturday night.
I think if we start looking ahead at, ‘Hey, we’re traveling to Hawaii,’ that’s a problem. We’re going to play Hawaii and they’re a very good team.”
The Broncos (8-1, 4-1 Mountain West) got off to a 7-0 start before losing at Wyoming, 30-28. They bounced back with a 45-31 victory over San Jose State last Friday night behind a pair of 100-yard rushers in Jeremy McNichols (158 yards, two touchdowns) and Alex Mattison (100, one touchdown).
McNichols, a 5-foot-9, 207-pound junior, has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in seven games this season, including his last four games. He set career-highs in carries (40), rushing yards (217) and all-purpose yards (264) in a 28-23 win over Colorado State a month ago.
McNichols ranks fourth nationally with 1,216 rushing yards and leads all FBS players with 20 touchdowns this season. Since the start of last season, he has scored 46 touchdowns, more than any other player. McNichols, who has scored a touchdown in 21 consecutive games, is on the watch lists for both the Maxwell and Doak Walker awards.
As good as the Broncos have been running the ball, they can just as well air it out with sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien, who leads the Mountain West in passing yards (2,578), touchdowns (18) and total offense (282.4 yards per game).
Rypien, last year’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year and a First Team all-conference pick, is already sixth on Boise State’s passing yardage list (5,931) and eighth in touchdown passes (38). His favorite target has been senior receiver Thomas Sperbeck, who has 57 catches for 909 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Sperbeck became the school’s career leader in receiving yards (3,238) when he passed Titus Young against BYU on Oct. 20 this season.
“They’re a strong team,” Hawaii defensive coordinator Kevin Lempa said. “Again, they’re another team that runs the football, but along with that they’ve got some good receivers and their quarterback is a drop-back, pro-style quarterback that can throw the ball also.”
The Rainbow Warriors (4-6, 3-3) are coming off their worst loss of the season, a 55-0 drubbing at San Diego State. It was their worst loss since losing by the same score at Boise State last season.
Hawaii first-year coach Nick Rolovich said facing the Broncos who have won the last five meetings and 11 of the 14 overall against the Rainbow Warriors will serve as a gut check.
“We have to respond because that was as poor or a performance at San Diego State that we could have drawn up, so we’ve got a lot of bounce back that we need to do this week,” Rolovich said. “(San Diego State and Boise State) are the guys that we have to aspire to be like if we want to compete in this conference consistently, so we got a first-hand look and we’ve obviously got a long way to go, but we’re looking forward to the challenge that Boise is going to bring.”
Hawaii’s last win in the series came in 2007, when it went on to a Sugar Bowl appearance. All three of its wins against Boise State have come in Honolulu.
“We have to understand what we’re getting into,” Harsin said. “They played in some big games this year, too. They played Michigan, they played Cal, so they’ll be ready to play and we have to certainly be focused and ready to play because if not, every single week in college football, if you don’t show up with the right focus, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to be in a battle and you could get beat.”