Boise State Football: In defense of the Defense

Photo via Pam Davis

In the storied history of college football, when a team’s defense allows nearly 500 yards of passing, fans will look up to see their team on the losing end of the score.

On rare occasions, like last Saturday in Boise, teams prove that looks can be deceiving.

The final on the scoreboard indicated a 31-28 Boise State victory over the Washington State Cougars. Another notch in the win column against a Pac-12 team. A school, that despite its current 0-2 record, is coming off a 9-4 season in 2015 and returns its top offensive playmakers.

The window dressing of the victory is pulled back to reveal a defense that allowed 480 passing yards, four touchdowns, and 71 pass attempts by Cougar quarterback Luke Falk.

If you were expecting Falk to throw less than 50 times or that the defense would allow under 250 yards against this Air Raid offense, you were sorely mistaken.

Washington State isn’t some random FCS school putting up huge numbers. In the past, Boise State has played FCS teams–and lower level FBS teams–that have arrived with similar numbers. In turn, the Broncos delivered a stellar performance on defense. Last Saturday was going to be a difficult task from the start.

Under the tutelage of head coach Mike Leach, Falk averaged 351 yards and 49 pass attempts per game last season. His yards per attempt was 7.8, a number very similar to his opening game against Eastern Washington.

Digging deeper, you’ll find the Broncos defense played pretty stellar, given the circumstances and the opponent. Was it a perfect performance? No, but the players responded by excelling in the implemented game plan.

Bend, but don’t break. Words that may have very well been written on the chalkboard. Tyler Horton bought in, rewarding himself and the team with an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown.

For most of the night, the Broncos defense frustrated Falk. Despite the 480 yards, they held him to 6.8 yards per attempt. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos chose to rush only three defenders most of the evening while relying on coverage men to do their job. The Broncos defense was gladly willing to give up short passes, digging in on third down to get the stops desired.

The secondary, led by Jonathan Moxey, helped keep star receiver Gabe Marks in check for most of the evening. A lot wasn’t said about Moxey during the game. As the experienced corner can probably tell you, announcers saying your name a lot can sometimes be a bad thing. Moxey learned that last year, when he was part of a few big plays by opposing offenses.

Moxey quietly turned in one of those performance expected of him. And he wasn’t the only one.

The senior group of linebackers–playing without injured junior Joe Martarano–were all over the field. Tanner Vallejo (14 tackles), Ben Weaver and Darren “the Hammer” Lee made stop after stop last Saturday.

David Moa had a motor that didn’t quit. Chanceller James made his return to the lineup. Really, if this space allowed it, almost every member of the defense that stepped onto the field last Saturday could be named.

Playing up to expectations is something this defense will need to rely on this season. The unit is mixture of savvy veterans, second-year starters, blue collar workers and fresh faces. Through two games, they have produced by staying within themselves.

By the fourth quarter, the defense was most likely running on fumes. Being on the field for two-thirds of a game will do that to a team. Thankfully, they had one last stop in them to preserve the victory.

Through two games, this appears to be one of the better tackling Boise State teams in recent years. Despite all he did for the Bronco program, tackling in opening spaces was a little lean in the Marcel Yates defensive coordinator years.

Yet his legacy is still evident in the many of the players on the field. Defensive players he recruited that are now shining. Players he helped mold over the past few years are growing and taking the next step under Avalos.

Boise State is 2-0. Players are gaining valuable experience. With the (hopeful) returns of the injured Martarano and the suspended Dylan Sumner Gardner on the horizon, this unit will only get better. Avalos is molding them into a cohesive unit, a unit that will perform even better the next time a strong passing game comes to town. And hopefully this defense will be that team that allows only 250 yards per game.

Now, about that triple option…


About Jason Haskins

Jason Haskins
Jason is a 2001 graduate of Boise State and has been an avid fan of Boise State Athletics since the late 90's. Originally from Spring Creek, NV, Jason grew up a fan of the Fred Gatlin era Nevada Wolf Pack, but immediately switched his allegiances while attending school at Boise State. He hasn't looked back since and remains a loyal supporter of Boise State. For more:

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