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November 15, 2010MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) Before Boise State's season started, coach Chris Petersen dropped a nugget that seemed to catch many in Boise off guard.
Instead of Jeremy Avery moving back into his role carrying the load in the Broncos' backfield, Petersen and the Broncos' offensive coaches decided Doug Martin would be the starter.
Combined with the return of D.J. Harper from a knee injury, it suddenly seemed as if Avery might be the odd man out in the Broncos' backfield.
"I didn't really think about it because we all play and all three of us can run the ball," Avery said. "I respect all of them and I know all of us can get the job done. Just when you're name is called you have to do your best with it."
Now it's November, the No. 4 Broncos are riding the nation's longest win streak at 23 games after a 52-14 rout of rival Idaho on Friday night and guess who is leading the Broncos in touchdowns?
Yep, it's Avery.
"The third guy, he's sometimes the odd man out. But we knew this, he was going to be a factor for us, whether we used him as a wildcat guy, a sweep guy, playing him at some more receiver," Petersen said after Friday night's win. "He was going to be a big factor and we've been saying it all along, this season is too long, too physical, just be patient. And he heard that and he's been awesome."
Avery's two touchdowns - one rushing, one receiving - in the Broncos' rout of Idaho began a string of three straight Friday night games that put Boise State on a national stage and give it a chance to improve its standing with the computers and voters who will help determine a bowl destination.
Next up is Fresno State on Friday night at home, followed by what many consider the one potential hiccup left on the Broncos' schedule - Nov. 26 at No. 21 Nevada.
"We're well aware we've got big opponents coming up, WAC championship implications, big-time teams," Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore said. "We're excited about this, week after week ... and ready to get after this."
There was a mutual understanding from those in the Broncos' backfield before the season that sharing would be required by everyone to make a three-man rotation work. Still, it caught plenty off guard when the Broncos announced they were going with Martin - a bigger, more bullying runner - instead of Avery, who ran for 1,151 yards last year as a junior. Yet his efforts last season, the seventh-best rushing total in school history, weren't enough to guarantee Avery his starting job.
The return of Harper from a serious knee injury complicated matters. Harper and Avery are both speedy and elusive, a style that complements Martin's bruising ways.
For the first three weeks of the season, Avery was the one left out in the rotation. After the Broncos' 37-24 win over Oregon State, he had just 18 carries for 65 yards and no touchdowns.
When Harper suffered another season-ending knee injury against the Beavers, Avery was ready to step, having worked hard early in the season instead of sulking over his lack of opportunity.
"You never know how the season progresses, how it's going to change, what it's going to bring," Avery said. "It's a long season. It's is. It's how you go with it."
His rushing numbers still aren't that impressive. After six 100-yard rushing games last season, 92 yards is Avery's best game this year. But with his 1-yard TD run as part of Boise State's 28-point first quarter on Friday night, Avery has now run for a touchdown in six straight games. He scored three on the ground against Toledo and Hawaii.
His improved ability as a pass catcher also was on display against the Vandals. In the final seconds of the first half, Avery ran a wheel route down the sideline. Moore's throw was slightly off and a little behind Avery, forcing him to make a quick adjustment with a defender in his face to haul in the 17-yard touchdown.
Moore joked that a couple of years ago, he wouldn't throw Avery a dump pass, let alone a wheel route for a touchdown.
"Big time credit goes to him for being able to catch the football," Moore said. "The first couple of years you weren't even sure if you wanted to throw a check down to him, but he's done a great job. He's got great hands now and is making some big time plays."