The defense of the Boise State Broncos faced it all this season. The triple-option of New Mexico and Air Force. The pass happy attack of Washington State. A grind it out style from San Diego State. A potential first-round pick in Wyoming’s Josh Allen.
Through it all, Leighton Vander Esch was the center of attention with a motor that never stopped.
Vander Esch and crew will have their hands full with the offense of the Oregon Ducks when the teams meet up December 16 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Boise State Broncos often rode the backs of a solid defense in 2017. Specifically, it was a certain pride in stopping the opponent’s running attack which seemed to drive the Broncos.
Teams averaged 125.8 rushing yards per game against Boise State in 2017, averaging 3.5 yards per carry. This included holding the nation’s top runner, Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, to 53 yards on the ground. Boise State also held Air Force to 181 total rushing yards.
All told, the Broncos allowed 22.5 points per game.
Vander Esch was all over the field, leading the team with 129 tackles. He also had three forced fumbles, three interceptions, three sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Another herculean effort will be needed against a Ducks team averaging 268 rushing yards and 36.7 points per game.
A lot will be said about the importance of Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. Oregon was significantly better with Herbert — who missed five games with an injury — but the number one concern should be senior running back Royce Freeman.
Freeman ran for 1,475 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on the ground in 2017. He will be capping a career in which he ran for over 5,600 yards and scored 60 touchdowns on the ground.
The Boise State Broncos front seven
It may seem like Vander Esch was a one-man wrecking crew, but he had help all across the board. Curtis Weaver and Jabril Frazier were leaders of a deep defensive front that also included the likes of David Moa, Sonatane Lui, and Durrant Miles. This group helped clog running lanes and pressure the quarterback all season long.
Weaver, the outstanding freshman, had nine sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss in 2017. Frazier added six sacks as Boise State collected 30 sacks.
This was also a unit that collected two of the only nine sacks allowed by Fresno State this season.
Safeties Kekoa Nawahine and DeAndre Pierce will also play an importnat role in stopping the run game, as they have all year. Nawahine was second on the team in tackles (96) while Pierce was third (81).
Slowing down the run game and getting pressure on the quarterback are staples of most successful defenses. Keeping Freeman bottled up with the front seven will go a long way for Boise State’s success. Herbert is already a fantastic player, but turning the Ducks into a one-dimensional attack should play into Boise State’s favor.
Vander Esh and company, a young unit who have gelled nicely in 2017, are on the hunt for one more outstanding performance. One thing we know, they’ll leave it all on the field in doing so.