D.J. Harper gives Boise State speed and veteran savvy out of the backfield.
When Boise State faces off against the Washington Huskies at the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, the Broncos stars will get plenty of chances to showcase their abilities.
2012 was a rebuilding season at Boise State, but for Chris Peterson's often elite team, that means the Broncos only went 10-2.
Their schedule did skew toward the weaker side, allowing them to compensate for an offense that was short on big plays. That said, Boise State did still sport a consistent run game to go along with their usual elite defense this season, ranking sixth in the nation with 14.9 points allowed per game.
After a disappointing season by their standards, Boise State will take the field against Washington with something to prove. These three guys are certain to show up in Vegas in a big way:
In his first season as a Bronco, this sophomore defensive end continued the Boise State tradition of wreaking havoc in opponents' backfields.
Demarcus Lawrence played his freshman season at the junior college level, dominating the defensive line with 69 tackles, including 21 for loss and 12 sacks.
Standing 6'3", 242 pounds, his speed and athleticism off the edge has translated beautifully to NCAA play. Lawrence recorded 48 tackles in 2012, leading the Mountain West Conference in tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (four).
Regardless of what level he has played at, Lawrence has always been able to beat his blocker and get to the quarterback. Expect to see him making plays behind the line of scrimmage in Las Vegas.
At long last, D.J. Harper is playing in his final game as a Boise State Bronco.
Harper was a freshman back in 2007, but a litany of injury issues have allowed him to play in 2012 as a sixth-year senior; ACL tears ate into big chunks of both his 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Though the 23-year-old has lost some time, he still has his speed. Even after two catastrophic injuries, Harper can still run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He has the experience to find a hole and the agility to make guys miss when he gets upfield.
On 212 carries in 2012, Harper picked up 1,065 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, all of which are easily career highs.
Boise State's offense isn't as explosive as it used to be, but Washington can be beaten on the ground; the Huskies ranked a mediocre 60th in the country against the run. After six years and two knee surgeries, it's finally Harper's time to make plays for the Broncos.
On the other hand, it might be the new blood that breaks through Washington's defense.
Jay Ajayi lost his true freshman season to a torn ACL as well, but 2012 has been much more promising for the young halfback. He returned to the team at full strength and just as punishing a runner as before. That bruising style has made him a fitting alternative to Harper's quickness.
What will be the result of the Las Vegas Bowl?
It took three games for Ajayi to even get a carry, and he got just one for two yards against BYU. When Boise State travelled to New Mexico nine days later, Ajayi took advantage of his six carries, breaking one for 71 yards en route to 118 yards and a touchdown.
Since then, Ajayi has gotten to use his physicality to pick up big chunks of yardage on a consistent basis. He finished the season with 541 yards on 78 rushes, an average of 6.7 yards per carry, to go along with four touchdowns.
If Washington structures its defense around stopping Harper, Ajayi could break loose. The stylistic differences between the two runners makes it so difficult to shut down both.
Ajayi is a good metaphor for Boise State's season: If you sleep on someone you thought would struggle, he'll make you pay for it.