Defense Takes the Spotlight as Broncos Prepare for Ducks

Watch Monday's Press Conference With Chris Petersen

Now it’s the Bronco defense’s turn to grab the headlines and get the love at least for the time being.

As the highest-scoring team in Division 1-A since 2000 (41.8 points per game at the start of the current season), the top scoring team in the nation in 2002 and ’03, and the No. 2 team in scoring in ’04, Boise State is best known for its explosive offense. And last season was no exception as the Broncos finishing fourth in the nation in scoring (42.3 points per game), sixth in passing efficiency, and 12th in total offense (467.3 yards per game).

Moreover, after a game and a half into the 2008 season, it looked like more of the same as the Broncos routed Idaho State 49-7 in its season opener and scored on its first three possessions against Bowling Green with freshman quarterback Kellen Moore going 11-for-11 in the passing department on those three drives for a 20-0 halftime lead in last week’s game.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Saturday’s victory: The offense inexplicably sputtered in the second half en route to a 20-7 win over the Falcons of the Mid-American Conference. In fact, in the second half, the Broncos gained just 89 yards of total offense and never threatened to score. The game marked the first time since 1989 that BSU failed to score in the second half of a home game and left the  offensive coaches scratching their heads.

Fortunately, the Bronco defense has been stellar in its first two games, giving up just one touchdown in each contest. In Saturday’s victory, Boise State’s bend-but-don’t break defense yielded 307 yards to Bowling Green’s spread offense, but it made the Falcons pay the price with a smash-mouth performance that sent a handful of visitors to the sidelines. “They had a lot of guys limping off,” head coach Chris Petersen noted after the game.

One of the most physical players was senior safety Ellis Powers, who finished the night with 11 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. “We took a toll on those guys,” he said of the Falcons. “They were looking for the big play and we came in and shut those (skill players) out. That breaks an offense’s confidence”

“I can’t say enough about Ellis Powers, he had a huge game tonight,” said linebacker Tim Brady following Saturday’s win. “You have to give a lot of credit to our defensive backs. It’s tough to stop the spread offense if your DBs don’t break up plays and get knockdowns. They did a heck of a job tonight making [the Bowling Green quarterbacks] hold the ball longer [than they wanted to]. You can’t ask for anything better than that.”

Bronco coaches and players from both sides of the ball were quick to note the overall physical play of the defense after the win.

“The first thing I’d like to say is just how pleased we are right now with our defense,” said Petersen in his postgame press conference. “That [Bowling Green] is one heck of an offense. Those guys can move the ball. There’s a lot more going on out there than you can probably see from the standsthe different formations, the binds they’re trying to create. They’re very smart at Bowling Green with what they do offensively.”

“The way our defense is playing right now is exciting,” said Brady, who had two tackles in the Bowling Green backfield. “It’s 11 guys who love playing together. Once we get our backs to the wall, we pride ourselves on [digging in] and getting stops.”

And the Broncos had their back to the wall more than once against Bowling Green. The Falcons entered Boise State territory on seven of their 10 possessions but only scored onceon a fourth-and-goal trick play. Bowling Green’s other six trips into Bronco territory resulted in two missed field goals, two fumbles, an interception and a punt.

“We had our defense to back us up,” said running back Ian Johnson, who rushed for 97 yards and two scores. “With the defense we’ve got it definitely makes it so it doesn’t [necessarily] feel like the game in our hands. We usually score [a lot], but we feel like, hey, if we don’t get [the necessary yardage on] third down, our defense will make the stop, our defense will stand strong; it’s not like we’re going to get into a shootout. It allows us [the offense] to get into a rhythm take care of things and never panic.”

“They [the offensive players] have bailed us out more than one time,” said Brady. “Sometimes it’s good to show we can carry load and get the job done.”

The Broncos’ defense registered eight tackles for loss, two sacks and three turnovers while limiting Bowling Green to seven points. After two games, Boise State’s defense is ranked seventh in the nation in fewest average points per game (7), 10th in fewest yards passing per game (296) and 30th in fewest yards rushing per game (218). And Boise State will need a similar showing by its defense if it hopes to upset No. 17 Oregon on the road this Saturday.

“We’re excited,” said Brady of the game against the Ducks, which will be the first meeting between the two schools. “It’s going to be a great opportunity and the environment is going to be fun.”

Said Johnson: “It’s very exciting. We’re happy they won today [on Saturday at Purdue]. They’re a great team. Our guys will get excited to see them in their house and her how loud Autzen Stadium really is.”

The Broncos will certainly need the toughness the defense displayed in the team’s first two games. It’s an objective the defense established in the preseason.

“We’re trying to be the most physical defense Boise State has ever seen,” Powers said. “It was brought up at a barbecue that we had this summer; we kind of took hold of that and make it one of our points of emphasis.”

As for his own performance, Powers, despite his impressive game against Bowling Green, will probably have to play just as well if not better for the Broncos to succeed against the Ducks on Saturday.

“I had a good game,” he said, “but I did make some mistakes and need to tighten up by next week and hopefully get it done against Oregon.”

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