BOISE - Running back Jay Ajayi didn’t return following a key fumble inside the red zone – his third fumble in the past two games – in a 41-40 loss at Fresno State last Friday night.
But that doesn’t mean he’s going to wilt away on the bench.
Despite true freshman Aaron Baltazar finishing with 92 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 18 carries in relief of Ajayi, running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said both backs will continue to see carries moving forward.
“We’ll see both of those guys out there on the field,” Bhonapha said. “We have a stable of guys who can go I there and play. We just need guys that are going to go in there and be productive. Jay is one of those guys. Aaron is one of those guys. Jack (Fields) is one of those guys. We have a bunch of guys that can go in there and be productive.”
Ajayi, a redshirt sophomore that has started each of the first four games, has 352 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He fumbled twice on the same drive against Air Force and coach Chris Petersen warned that if he fumbled again, he would be headed to the bench.
That happened against Fresno State, when Ajayi fumbled after converting a fourth-and-one situation with the Broncos in need of a touchdown in the third quarter. He didn’t see the field again, and Baltazar scored on a 35-yard touchdown run and another one-yard score as his replacement.
Ajayi was not made available to the media this week, but Bhonapha was asked about his mental state following the fumble and subsequent benching.
“These guys are very competitive,” Bhonapha said. “You won’t find guys that care more about football than these guys, and they want to do their job and they want to be successful at their job. They are no different than any person on the street I would hope, who doesn’t do a good job, they are going to get down on themselves, so its my job as a coach to try and encourage them and bring them back up.”
Bhonapha also wasn’t ready to put the ‘fumbler’ label on Ajayi just yet.
“I don’t necessarily see it as an issue with him,” Bhonapha said. “I think it’s an issue with me making sure I’m making more of an emphasis on it for the whole group and when it comes to the fumble situation, it’s a group thing. We have to make sure as a group we’re putting our focus and concentration on holding onto the football, especially in the red zone and really any time you have the football in our position. I don’t want to put it on one guy, it’s just us as a group getting better and having that emphasis on ball security.”