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BOISE — Very few would have predicted Boise State’s leading rusher through five games wouldn’t be Robert Mahone or Andrew Van Buren.

And maybe that says it all about the Broncos’ running game so far.

True freshman George Holani leads the Broncos with 302 yards on 56 carries, while Mahone is right behind him with 301 yards on 59 carries. Andrew Van Buren, the projected starter by many before the season, has just 19 rushes for 65 yards.

As a group, the Broncos rank No. 81 nationally with an average of 4.15 yards per carry, and 70th with 159.3 rushing yards per game.

“I love all our tailbacks and I know all those tailbacks can be successful,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “But we have to do it more consistently in the games.”

Boise State has had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past 10 seasons, the longest active streak in the country. With just seven guaranteed games left (as many as nine with a conference championship and bowl game), the streak would appear to be in serious jeopardy.

Holani has been a pleasant surprise. The true freshman wasn’t even a lock to be a serious contributor when fall camp opened, yet he sits atop the rushing stats as the midway point of the season approaches. He had nine rushes for a team high 80 yards against UNLV last week, although 46 did come on one run.

Mahone, meanwhile, had nine rushes for just 13 yards and lost a fumble, while Van Buren had three carries for six yards but did score a touchdown in garbage time.

“George gave us a spark,” Harsin said.

The biggest issue against UNLV came in short-yardage situations. Five times the Broncos needed one yard to pick up a first down. Four of the five times they couldn’t get it.

The most difficult sequence to take may have happened on the final play of the first quarter and the first play of the second quarter. On both third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 from the UNLV 22-yard line, Van Buren was stuffed short and the Broncos turned the ball over on downs.

“If you can’t get half a yard, that’s disappointing,” Harsin said. “That’s gut-wrenching when you can’t get half a yard. We were like 135th in the country a few years ago (on fourth down). We were so bad. We were so far behind we thought we were in first place in short-yardage. We spent a lot of time on that. We’re not going backwards. We did unfortunately, literally on that play. We have to find a way to not let that happen. We don’t want to go backwards in that area.”

As a result the Broncos had their worst game of the season on third down, converting just two of 13 chances. It didn’t cost them against UNLV, but players and coaches know it almost certainly will in a game later this season if it were to not improve.

“It’s very frustrating when you have a couple yards to go and it’s third and fourth down (and they don’t convert),” Van Buren said. “You need to get that first down. It was very disappointing, but looking back at the film I know what I need to do next time, so if I get that chance again I’ll get it done.”

Offensive coordinator Zak Hill took some of the blame for the struggles in the run game to start the year, saying “part of it is definitely on me as a play caller. … As an offensive coordinator you are trying to feel out a game and figure out what is working and what is not and maybe something doesn’t hit and that impacts my decisions later in the game or the next call.”

The Broncos got right tackle John Ojukwu back from injury last week against UNLV, and had the original starting five offensive linemen back for the first time since the season opener against Florida State. That likely will help the run game improve moving forward.

It hasn’t been the start the Broncos would have hoped for in the run game, but all parties involved are confident things will turn around soon.

“We just need to get back in the groove of things and trust up front and hit the holes the right way,” Van Buren said. “We’ll be good.”

B.J. Rains is the Boise State beat writer for the Idaho Press and a two-time winner of the NSMA Idaho Sports Writer of the Year Award. Follow him on Twitter @BJRains.

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