Young Boise St. defense shows signs of improvement

TODD DVORAK (Associated Press)
The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- It's taken two months and some rocky performances along the way, but the young defense for Boise State is beginning to show signs of improvement.

In the last two games, the Broncos defense has notched more quarterback sacks, yielded fewer points and forced more turnovers than the first four games.

Since getting torched for 41 points and giving up 522 total yards in a loss to Fresno State, the defense has played a key role in helping Boise State (4-2, 2-1 Mountain West Conference) win two straight and pull to within a half-game of Mountain Division leading Wyoming.

There are some caveats, however. One of those victories came against winless Southern Mississippi and last Saturday's victory at Utah State came without the challenge of facing the Aggies' dangerous quarterback Chuckie Keeton.

Still, coach Chris Petersen said the improvement on defense is evident against the run and on third downs, and much of that credit goes to those in the trenches.

''They played really well, and we need that because you know it starts in the lines,'' Petersen said of the performance of the defensive front against the Aggies. ''We're proud of those guys for progressing. And I think our defense in general is getting better.''

After the Fresno State meltdown, Boise State ranked near the bottom nationally in a handful of key defensive categories, including 98th in total defense and 100th in pass defense. After four games, a defense that was among the nation's best a year ago but struggling with new faces across the unit, was giving up 28.3 points per game, 78th among FBS teams.

Since then, the defense has improved significantly, allowing 23.8 points per game, tied for 47th nationally and giving up nearly 50 fewer yards per game. Southern Miss' only score came after Boise State fumbled inside its own 10-yard line, and the Aggies were held to 10 points last week until the Aggies pulled within 34-23 late after returning an interception for a score and getting a touchdown in the final minute of play.

In the last two games, the defense has recorded seven sacks, has allowed 5 of 28 conversions on third down and forced six turnovers.

Linebacker Corey Bell said it's simply taken time for a group of new, inexperienced players to grow more comfortable and confident in understanding the system and playing more instinctively.

''Everybody is an athlete who comes to play football here,'' said Bell, whose fourth on the team in tackles.

''But you don't really know anything about the defense ... you're kind of just running around trying to make plays but you don't know what you're doing.

''So maybe after a year or two, you get the same ideas imprinted into you over and over ... then when you have the understanding you're able to control your body without thinking about it, controlling your position. It just becomes natural,'' he said.

For the defense, a real test of the growth and maturation comes Saturday when Nevada and quarterback Cody Fajardo pays a visit to Bronco Stadium.

The Wolfpack (3-3, 2-1) hasn't beaten the Broncos in Boise since 1997 and are looking to rebound after losing to San Diego State. 51-44 on Oct. 5.