Running the ball is often the catalyst to an offense. It is also a way to control the tempo of a game and limit what an opponent can do by limiting their opportunities. It is really a no-brainer that both the Washington Huskies and Boise State Broncos will seek to establish and maintain a solid running game in the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas.
On the season, the Huskies haven't done a great job running the ball. They average just 137.2 yards per game, and that ranks 92nd in the nation. Boise State has done better, averaging 173.1 yards per game, which is good for 52nd among FBS schools.
Even though Washington has had struggles this season in the running game, they have a very good running back in sophomore Bishop Sankey. He is a very talented back and will get his carries in Las Vegas.
The Broncos' feature running back is none other than sixth-year senior D.J. Harper. Who, because of two devastating knee injuries in back-to-back seasons, was granted a sixth year of eligibility. To say he has bounced back is quite an understatement.
So, how do these two running backs compare? Let's look at the numbers and what each running back's strengths and weaknesses are and what they might do in Vegas.
Bishop Sankey's Numbers
On the season Sankey carried the ball 259 times for 1,234 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averages 4.8 yards per carry, and his longest run of the season was 61 yards against a very good Stanford defense.
Sankey can also catch the ball. On the season, he has 27 receptions for 175 yards. He is a big part of the Huskies offense and doesn't ever seem to give up.
Against Oregon, even though his team was losing 38-7, Sankey played like the game was on the line. He had an amazing run in which he breaks tackle after tackle and eventually makes the goal line when it appeared that he was going to be stopped.
He plays with heart and has speed and toughness. He will certainly be a key weapon against the Broncos.
D.J. Harper's Numbers
On the season, Harper has carried the ball 212 times for 1,065 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has been the key to the Boise offense many times.
Harper averages five yards per carry and has a longest run of 80 yards. That came on the opening play against Colorado State on senior day in Bronco Stadium no less. He has also caught 20 passes for 149 yards and another touchdown.
However, one of the biggest statistics for Harper can't be written; it is his role as leader. Naturally, because of his six years on the squad, he has a lot to offer younger players on the team.
Best Games, Worst Game: Bishop Sankey
On the season, Sankey had his best two games against Cal and Stanford.
Against Cal, Sankey carried the ball 29 times for an impressive 189 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
Against Stanford, Bishop carried 20 times for 144 yards and a single score. He averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry in that game.
Sankey's worst game came against LSU. However, he only carried the ball eight times in that contest. Still, he only had 16 yards and averaged just two yards per carry.
Overall, Sankey had six games over 100 yards.
Best Games, Worst Game: D.J. Harper
D.J. Harper also had six games over 100 yards. His best two games were against Miami Ohio and Nevada.
Against Miami Ohio, Harper carried 16 times for 162 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass in that game.
Against the Wolf Pack of Nevada, Harper stepped up in a big way. He carried the ball 24 times for 130 yards and one score. However, it was the timing of his runs that meant the most. His yardage came when the Broncos needed it most.
Harper's worst game was versus Michigan State in the opening game of the year. On the night, Harper carried 15 times for just eight yards. That is a .5 yards-per-carry average. To say he started the season off rough is putting it mildly. However, he rebounded in a big way.
What About the Backups?
Harper and Sankey both have capable backups, and both of those backups are freshmen. Boise State running back Jay Ajayi is a valuable weapon for the Broncos, while Kendyl Taylor has yet to have any kind of breakout performance.
On the season, Taylor has carried the ball 34 times for a total of 207 yards and averages 6.1 yards per carry. He has also caught 14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Ajayi has certainly proved himself a valuable backup. On the season, he has carried the ball 78 times for 541 yards and four touchdowns. He actually had 118 yards on six carries against New Mexico and 91 yards on 15 carries against Fresno State.
A few times on the year, Ajayi has been a spark for a stagnate offense, and he and Harper are definitely a powerful one-two punch.
Who has the better starting running back?
Both the Huskies and the Broncos have good starting running backs. Both Sankey and Harper run with power, speed and heart. Both will get their carries, and both should have some success. How much success will depend on how the opposing defense is playing.
Washington and Boise have great defenses, and it will be interesting to see how these two backs fare against those squads in Vegas.
A key may be the backups. Ajayi is a very talented back, and he will no doubt play a part in the success of the Broncos' rushing attack.
Look for more comparisons of these two teams in the days leading up to the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas here on Bleacher Report.