Entering the start of the 2015 season, expectations ran high for a Boise State defense that was returning the majority of their starters and a plethora of other players that saw significant playing time in 2014.
Through four games, that hype can be considered warranted.
Aside from a few lapses and an underwhelming fourth quarter against BYU, the Boise State defense has set the tone for the Broncos 3-1 start. Tacklers swarming the ball and a tough run defense have become the signatures of second-year Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates.
Boise State ranks 29th in total defense. As a team, the Broncos are impressively holding opponents to 15.5 points per game. Throw out punt and interception returns for touchdowns and that number drops to 12 points per game.
Deep units on the defensive line and linebacker corps have produced 12 sacks on the year. Depth and talent are also part of the following stat, one that makes coaches and fans beam with pride: 44.3 opponent rushing yards per game. If you’re wondering at home, that’s best in the nation.
To break that down even further, opponents have totaled 177 rushing yards this season against Boise State. They’ve done that on 116 carries, averaging out to 1.5 yards per carry.
In college, a sack counts against the quarterback’s rushing yard total. The number of rushing yards, then, might seem misleading but it doesn’t take away the dominance that Boise State’s run defense has exerted this year. Playing two or three players deep at each position should only help the Broncos stay fresh as the season wears on.
When talking about the Boise State defense, one can’t forget about the play of the secondary. Led by Donte Deayon and Darian Thompson, the Broncos have collected eight interceptions, tied for fifth in the nation, and only one behind the current teams tied for first.
Deayon has three interceptions and Thompson has two, bringing each player’s career total to 16. Unofficially, the two have combined for 35 tackles on the year, helping to support the run defense and keeping opponents to minimal yards after the catch.
Except for a few instances (three times at BYU, once at Virginia) the defense has limited the big play. The secondary had a few lapses but in each of these occasions the front seven of Boise State was applying pressure on the quarterback.
Though it has been a team effort, individual players continue to shine for Boise State. In addition to Deayon and Thompson, players such as Tyler Horn, Kamalei Correa, and Tanner Vallejo, to name a few, are playing at a high level. With so many players on the depth chart, it is no wonder the Broncos are getting outstanding performances from players on defense. Healthy competition only drives each one to want to stay on the field, allowing for minimal drop-off when the second string is in the game.
Luckily, through four games, injuries haven’t affected the Broncos a whole lot on defense. Dylan Sumner-Gardner, who unofficially had 14 tackles in 15 quarters of play, will be missed. The true sophomore broke a bone in his foot, derailing an otherwise promising start to his season.
In the true “next man up” style of Boise State, Kam Miles filled in admirably, forcing a fumble and getting a pass deflection against Virginia.
The Boise State defense is one of the most complete units the school has had in years. Many of the players have been starters (or seen plenty of game action) for the last two, three, and even four years. That experience is paying dividends through the first four games. Without the defense, the Broncos may very well be 2-2.
Now, with the offense finding its rhythm, the defense hasn’t had to overcompensate for other units failings. Perhaps now the defense is finally realizing its full potential. And for Mountain West teams, that’s one scary thought.