BOISE — Not often does a player win MVP honors of a bowl game when he’s on the losing team.
But that’s what Washington running back Bishop Sankey did in last year’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas despite the Broncos pulling out a 28-26 win over the Huskies.
Sankey rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries to cap one of the best seasons by a Washington running back in program history.
Now he’s back as a junior and the Broncos are hoping for different results when they meet again in the season opener Saturday night in Seattle.
“He ran fast and hard,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “That’s what he did. He breaks tackles. Their line did a good job of creating seams and then he finds them and hits them.
“He’s sort of a low center of gravity guy that’s compact, and if you just run into him, he’s not going down. You’re just going to have to tackle him and hang on for dear life.”
Sankey burst onto the scene as a sophomore starter in 2012, rushing for the third-highest total (1,439 yards) in school history. He had 16 touchdowns, finishing second on the single-season list to former NFL star Corey Dillon’s 24 in 1996.
The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Sankey got better as the season went on, rushing for 773 yards and seven touchdowns in the final five games of the season.
“That’s a great running back,” Boise State safety Darian Thompson said. “We’re just going to have to hunt. The coaches always talk about it comes down to hunting in packs. Don’t leave one man to make the tackle and that’s what were focusing on.”
Sankey, who is quick and shifty, has the skills to avoid multiple tacklers. That was evident in last season’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas when he shed defenders left and right to pick up extra yardage.
“I feel like we did a pretty good job swarming him last game, but we just didn’t finish, we didn’t wrap up,” Boise State defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe said. “We’ve emphasized tackling a lot. He’s a good player and he’s always going to get some yards, but we need to slow him down.”
In addition to his 205 rushing yards, Sankey also had six catches for 74 yards.
Simply put, he was almost unstoppable.
“He’s a physical runner and he’s hard to tackle,” Boise State defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “He broke a lot of tackles against us last year and made guys miss. And he’s going to do that, so we have to do a good job of getting off of blocks and getting more than one guy to the ball carrier.
“When guys are out in space, more guys are going to miss tackles, so that’s why being able to escape off of blocks and then that relentless pursuit running to the football is so key.”
The Huskies have plenty of other weapons on offense, including quarterback Keith Price, wide receiver Kasen Williams and potential future NFL tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Slowing them will be no easy task either.
But despite the plethora of firepower, the Broncos know stopping the Washington offense starts with finding a way to limit Sankey’s production on the ground.
“I would say so,” Petersen said. “They have some great players over there that are going to be NFL players without question, but I think most of the time it starts with that run game.”