SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — With Boise State's defense struggling to slow down Josh Love and San Jose State, the Broncos turned to their ground game to hold off the Spartans and keep their New Year's Six bowl aspirations alive.
Freshman George Holani ran for 126 yards and four touchdowns and No. 21 Boise State bounced back from its first loss of the season by beating San Jose State 52-42 on Saturday night.
The Broncos (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West) lost 28-25 at BYU two weeks ago with starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier sidelined but responded following a week off despite falling into an early 14-0 hole.
"We fight hard," receiver John Hightower said. "No matter what's going on in the game, we're going to keep fighting. The coaches coach us to be like that. I know everyone will keep fighting."
Boise State needs to keep winning and possibly get some help in the American Athletic Conference, where Cincinnati and Memphis are also in the running for a major bold bid.
It wouldn't have mattered had the Broncos not held off the Spartans, scoring touchdowns on five straight drives in the second half before ending the game with kneel-downs. Boise State finished with six rushing touchdowns and 253 yards on the ground.
"We finished the way we wanted to on the offensive side of the ball," coach Bryan Harsin said.
Boise State took the lead for good on Holani's third touchdown early in the fourth quarter that made it 38-34.
The Broncos then finally got a key defensive stop against the Spartans (4-5, 1-4) thanks to a sack by Curtis Weaver, and Andrew Van Buren provided a cushion with a 32-yard score that made it 45-34 with 6:24 to play.
Love threw for 438 yards and cut the deficit to 45-42 on his second TD pass of the game with 3:56 remaining, but it wasn't enough for the Spartans, who fell to 0-14 all-time against Boise State.
"Losing this one hurts," Love said. "It would have been huge for us obviously. It was one step closer to a bowl game. We have three opportunities left. We have to win two of them."
The Broncos recovered an onside kick following Love's second TD pass and converted a third-and-5 on a 15-yard end-around by Hightower and Holani put the game away with his fourth TD of the game with 1:35 to play.
"I thought he showed toughness. I thought he showed his durability. I thought he showed great vision," Harsin said. "I'm really proud of him. George is a guy that, since the day he showed up, he's provided nothing but positives to our football team."
The Broncos took their first lead late in the third quarter after Bachmeier scrambled 18 yards on a third-and-15 play. He left briefly with an apparent injury and Chase Cord came in and ran it 8 yards for a score on the next play to put Boise State on top 31-27.
But Love responded with another TD drive of his own with DeJon Parker running it in from 3 yards out for his second score of the game to put San Jose State back up 34-31 heading into the fourth quarter before the Broncos took the game over on the ground.
Boise State: The Broncos got a big spark on special teams with a 66-yard TD return by Avery Williams to get them on the board in the closing seconds of the opening quarter, but had little answer all night for Love until Weaver's late sack proved to be the difference.
San Jose State: The Spartans scored TDs on the opening two drives of the game in a sign that this year's meeting would be far different than the mostly lopsided previous games in the series. They got 193 yards receiving from Tre Walker and 110 from Baily Gaither but still fell short against Boise State.
San Jose State linebacker Jesse Osuna was ejected for targeting for the second straight game. He missed the first half of this game for a hit last week against Army and then less than five minutes into the third quarter he was called again for a hit on George Holani. Osuna also was called for targeting in the opener against Northern Colorado, meaning he will be suspended for the next game under the repeat offender rule.
Boise State: Host Wyoming on Saturday.
San Jose State: Visit Hawaii on Saturday.