When its backed up near its own goal line and its opponent is threatening to score, Boise State’s defense seems to play with an added fervor, an increased intensity, or what cornerback Kyle Wilson calls a “heightened awareness” of the situation.
The Broncos’ impressive 4-0 start has been fueled in large part by a defense that has yielded just 12.3 points per game, good for 12th in the nation, and plays especially tough in the red zone the area between a team’s own 20-yard line and goal line. In last week’s 38-3 win over Louisiana Tech, the defense’s top moment came late in the third quarter and early in the fourth when the Bulldogs drove to the Broncos’ 4-yard line and had a first down. Four straight runs yielded just 3 yards, and after a 5-yard penalty La Tech failed to score on an incomplete pass. For the game, the Broncos held Louisiana Tech to three points despite six drives that penetrated Boise State territory.
“If they’re going to get something [on the scoreboard], they’re going to have to work for every bit of it,” said Wilson after the game.
A second-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection last season, Wilson says the Bronco defense, which committed itself to becoming more physical this season, becomes especially fierce when its opponent ventures into the red zone. “It’s a heightened awareness that makes us focus on the task at hand,” he said.
“Once you get there [on or near the goal line], you’ve got to just read [the offense] and have good eyes little stuff like that that helps you focus more and understand the situation.”
Wilson certainly did his part in the win over Louisiana Tech with two tackles and three pass breakups. “We’re just going out and playing good, sound football. Our goal tonight was for a shutout, and we came close. We’re proud of that,” said the junior from Piscataway, N.J. “Finishing, we’ve been working on that for a while. I think we put it together today ... finishing drives, finishing quarters, finishing halves, finishing games strong. ... I think we’ve played extremely hard all season, and it shows that when you play hard, good things happen.”
Good things have happened so far for Wilson. He was an All-WAC pick on a number of preseason lists and currently leads the Bronco defense with three interceptions. And the stellar performances by Wilson and the other defensive players so far this season haven’t gone unnoticed by their offensive teammates.
“You don’t have to worry about the defense,” said quarterback Kellen Moore following the La Tech game. “They’re taking care of business. They’ve been awesome from the first game to this point, and you know they’re going to get better from week to week.”
Running back Ian Johnson says the defensive has performed at a high level due in large part to its depth and unselfishness. “You look at our [defensive] teams in the past, and you remember the Korey Halls [a former linebacker now playing for Green Bay] and those guys that anchored [those] teams. But this year’s team across the board has a bunch of playmakers ... so that no one [player] is getting all the praise, no one guys is taking over. This defense is taking ownership of everything they do out there.”
Head coach Chris Petersen is equally impressed. “When our defense plays like that I think it gives us a lot of confidence. ... Those guys have talked about being physical, and they’ve been backing it up. The bottom line is that they’re competing hard. After the Oregon game they saw on tape how hard they were running to the ball and competing. They know that they’ve set a standard and they know they have to play hard every week.”
It’s an intensity that the defense will need to maintain when it plays at Southern Mississippi this Saturday. The Golden Eagles (2-3) are 17th in the nation in total offense, and running back Damion Fletcher is fourth nationally in rushing, averaging 142 yards per game.
“We know we’re playing a good Southern Miss team,” Petersen said, who adds that the Broncos cannot take any opponent lightly or look ahead on the schedule. “If we get beat, it’s not because we’re ahead of ourselves. Our guys understand that it’s week to week, and if we don’t play as well as we can, we’re going to get beat.”
Even in the red zone.