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Broncos expect Oregon to be motivated for Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (38), with quarterback Brett Rypien (4) and offensive linesman Mason Hampton (59) holds up the trophy after their 17-14 win over Fresno State in an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West championship in Boise, Idaho, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. Boise State won 17-14. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

The Boise State football team is expecting a spirited and focused effort from the Oregon Ducks Saturday when the two teams meet in the Las Vegas Bowl at 1:30 p.m. MT on ABC.

Oregon was briefly in limbo when coach Willie Taggert left for Florida State, but the promotion of offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal just a few days later was a welcomed move by the players that could pay off Saturday.

More than 70 players signed a petition calling for Cristobal to get the head-coaching position, and they’ll likely be fired up to play in his first game as head coach against the Broncos.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Boise State safety DeAndre Pierce said Thursday. “I know a couple people on the team and they all were big fans of that coach and wanted him to get promoted so we all know they are going to play with a chip on their shoulder.

“Some of them probably felt betrayed with the coach that left them, so they are going to have that chip on their shoulder and be ready to play.”

One player that is not ready to play for the Ducks is running back Royce Freeman, who has elected to sit out the game to avoid getting hurt and possibly damaging his NFL stock.

Freeman has 1,475 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns and had rushed for at least 120 yards in each of the past six games. The senior has the rare combination of power and speed and was Oregon’s all-time leading rusher with 5,621 yards. That total that ranks No. 2 in Pac-12 history and No. 6 in NCAA Division I history.

Expect Kani Benoit to get the bulk of the action in his absence. He has 573 yards and 10 touchdowns on 80 carries.

“He’s one of the best running backs in the nation. Big, physical and fast,” Pierce said of Freeman. “But they’ve been consistent the past 10 years, they have that next man up mentality. They have great running backs, they have three running backs that can all go.”

Asked if he would ever consider sitting out a bowl game to avoid getting hurt if the scenario came up for him, Pierce said, “For me personally I kind of feel like that’s a selfish decision. If anything you want to give scouts everything you can, especially in your last bowl game.”

Saturday will mark the first and only bowl game for Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart. The graduate transfer won just eight total games in four years at Kansas but already has 10 wins and a conference title in his only season in Boise.

Now he’s soaking in his first bowl experience and hoping to cap it Saturday with a win.

“It’s my first one and I’m trying to make the most of it,” Cozart said Thursday. “It’s been nice. I’m enjoying every bit of it and the guys have made it fun.

“It’s been humbling. When you sign up to go play college football at a Division I school you want to experience these things, conference championships and bowl games, so for me to experience both in my last year, it’s been nothing but a blessing.”

Boise State practiced again Thursday at Rebels Park, the practice fields for UNLV. They went up in the High Roller Ferris Wheel later Thursday night before getting a little bit of free time to explore the strip. The Broncos will focus in Friday with a fairly normal routine before Saturday’s game.

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