He wasn’t present against Boise State last year in Provo. But he’s been very present for BYU this season. Jamaal Williams is the nation’s second-leading rusher and has his sights set on eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark Thursday night on the blue turf (he’s just 68 yards away). The senior star’s next target beyond that is BYU’s single-season record. Williams is 641 yards away from the 1,582 yards Luke Staley posted in 2001 when he won the Doak Walker Award. Williams just became the Cougars’ career rushing leader, passing Harvey Unga in last Friday’s victory over Mississippi State with 3,468 yards. A couple of weeks ago, Williams set BYU’s single-game rushing record by picking up 286 yards against Toledo.
Williams took last year off “for personal reasons” and wasn’t part of BYU’s 35-24 win at Lavell Edwards Stadium. He was in Boise two years ago, when the Broncos crunched the Cougars 55-30. Boise State did a nice job versus Williams that night, holding him to 70 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while the Bronco offensive explosion forced BYU to the air. This is pertinent because Boise State had occasional trouble with Colorado State’s running game Saturday night. Running backs Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews combined for 121 yards, and Nick Stevens did some Taysom Hill-type running with 48 yards on six carries.
Jeremy McNichols has to be relishing going against one of the nation’s best. He’s certainly one of the Mountain West’s best, earning the conference’s Offensive Player of the Week award yesterday for the third time in four weeks. That kind of recognition doesn’t come without a lot of touches. Remember how we tracked Jay Ajayi’s workload two seasons ago during his junior year? He ended up leading the nation. Six games in, Ajayi had logged 142 rushing attempts and 31 receptions for a total of 173. McNichols actually has more carries at this point (150). His 20 receptions leave him with 170 touches, just three short of Ajayi’s number midway through 2014.
People talk about McNichols “running angry.” I wonder if San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey isn’t doing the same thing right now with McNichols piling up these Mountain West awards. The Aztecs senior continues to lead the nation in rushing, currently by 169 yards over Williams. NCAA.com profiles Pumphrey on its “Heisman Watch” this week, pointing out that he is 1,014 yards away from becoming college football’s career rushing leader (Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne currently holds the record with 6,397 yards from 1996-99). Pumphrey rushed for 220 yards on 38 attempts last Friday in SDSU’s 17-3 win at Fresno State. For the season, he averages 6.7 yards per carry—and 7.8 in the fourth quarter.
Will BYU be depressed Thursday—or fired up? I’d bet on the latter. The Big 12 announced yesterday that it will table expansion for the time being. That had been the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow while the Cougars navigated independence in football. Big 12 presidents and chancellors met in a suburb of Dallas yesterday and deliberated for more than five hours. Reportedly, none of the 11 expansion candidates generating the eight votes (out of 10 schools) required for an invitation. The conference maintains it never got that far.
Caves & Prater addressed this yesterday on KTIK: the infamous punch to the groin of Boise State’s Chanceller James by BYU’s Ului Lapuaho last year in Provo. It seems everyone remembers that. It went viral in the days following the game, but not only was Lapuaho not ejected, he wasn’t subsequently disciplined by then-Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall. Lapuaho, an offensive tackle who started first two games of the season for BYU, has been out since then with a leg injury and won’t be playing in Thursday night’s rematch. Just so you know.
Ryan Finley’s last full game as Boise State quarterback was in last year’s 35-24 loss at BYU. Finley passed for 297 yards against the Cougars, but he also threw three interceptions, one of them the pick-six after Tanner Mangum’s Hail Mary had given BYU the lead with 45 seconds left. Finley, of course, departed for North Carolina State as a graduate transfer after spring football. His last two weeks have been wild—a 10-3 win over Notre Dame in a Hurricane Matthew-fed monsoon, and a 24-17 overtime loss at Clemson’s Death Valley that saw the game end on an interception that wasn’t all his fault. Finley has completed 65 percent of his passes this season for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns against two picks. His pass efficiency rating is a decent 143.8.
Speaking of Notre Dame, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. has been identified by CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd as a candidate for the newly-vacant head coaching job at Purdue. The former Boise State quarterback and O-coordinator wouldn’t seem to be an easy sell right now, what with the Fighting Irish limping along at 2-5. Dodd also lists Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, but his top candidate is Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, who has the “other Broncos” at 7-0 with a No. 19 ranking in both polls two seasons after his first bowl game, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2014.
Former Boise Hawk Josh Donaldson has the top postseason batting average in the majors at .448. But Toronto’s reigning American League MVP and his teammates are one loss away from seeing their 2016 season come to an end after last night’s 4-2 loss to Cleveland in the AL Championship Series. The star of the NLCS among former Hawks is Chicago’s Javier Baez, the second baseman-shortstop who is batting .391 in the postseason and has been dazzling in the field. Baez notched the first hit off the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 Sunday night (ex-Hawk Willson Contreras got the second right after him). The series resumes tonight with Boise alum Rich Hill on the mound for the Dodgers.
For the second time this season, Boise State’s Brenna Peloquin has been named the national Division I Cross Country Women’s Athlete of the Week after winning the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational last Friday in Madison. Also, the Broncos swept Mountain West Volleyball Player of the Week honors, with Maddy O’Donnell winning on offense and Maddi Osburn on defense. The duo led Boise State to a pair of sweeps on the road last week at San Jose State and Fresno State.
This Day In Sports…October 18, 1977:
One of the epic performances in World Series history, as Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees hits three consecutive home runs, all on the first pitch, to lead the New York Yankees past the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-4. The Game 6 victory gave the Yankees the world championship, their first in 15 years. It was on this night that Jackson, who had signed with the Yanks as a free agent in the offseason, earned the nickname “Mr. October.”
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)