Before this season a season he wouldnt have been playing at Boise State if not for a knee injury in the third game of last season Jerrell Gavins explained the role that he and fellow senior cornerback Jamar Taylor expected to play for the Broncos.
Me and Jamar are the cornerstones, not just for the secondary, but for the whole defense, Gavins said in August. We plan on being the best, and thats what were going to be the best in the Mountain West, the best in college football. It is what it is. Anybody got a problem with it, any receiver, just come see us.
That sort of braggadocios needs to be backed up. So after Gavins ended one first-half UNLV drive by intercepting a pass in the end zone and finished off another by recovering a fumble and returning it 16 yards for a touchdown, coach Chris Petersen approached him and tapped on his watch.
Its about time. Weve been waiting for this, Petersen said with a smile.
It was the first interception of the season for Gavins and his first in more than a calendar year. Gavins had three interceptions in his first three games last season before injuring his knee and turning what was supposed to be his senior season into a redshirt year.
It has been a slow recovery for Gavins, who was held out of many drills in fall camp and didnt start the season opener. And, even when he was in there, Gavins simply didnt get many opportunities as the teams field corner (he plays on the wide side of the offensive formation). Teams are less likely to make the longer throws to that side of the field.
People finally went after him. When you go after him, hes going to make you pay, Taylor said. Hes a beast. He comes to practice every day ready to work. He showed up today.
His interception in the end zone was a thing of beauty. Gavins played perfect coverage down the field and then somehow caught the ball even as it came directly over him.
It was great to see him make that unbelievable play. It might have been the most picturesque interception weve had all year. I was very proud he made that play, defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said.
Taylor, too, battled injuries in 2011, ones that made him postpone his NFL ambitions and return to Boise Sate for his senior year, giving the Broncos an excellent set of cornerstones. Taylor plays the boundary side (the short side of the formation) and is having an All-Mountain West type season.
The pair enjoyed their best collective game of the season Saturday. Taylor had a career-high nine tackles, two forced fumbles, one sack and one pass breakup as the Broncos defense did not allow a point against UNLV. Gavins had three tackles, an interception, a fumble return touchdown and two pass breakups.
When those two guys are playing at a high level, Petersen said, other guys feed off it.
Along with senior linebackers Tommy Smith and J.C. Percy and defensive tackle Mike Atkinson, the cornerbacks have given a mostly young Boise State defense some veteran leadership and stability. The Broncos have not allowed a first-half point in five games and are among the national leaders with 22 turnovers forced.
Quarterback Joe Southwick, who must contend with the cornerbacks every day in practice, said it was their understanding of offensive concepts and routes that allowed them to play at such a high level.
Their smarts are second to none, he said.
Those smarts and skills allow the Broncos to play a variety of coverages in the secondary and to disguise those schemes before the snap so opposing quarterbacks are not sure what defense they are contending with when they drop back to pass.
Throughout the week theyre just making everyone better, whether it's the guys under them who they're teaching or us going against them. Were always having to change our routes or do different things just to make some completions against those guys, wide receiver Chris Potter said.
Though his NFL ambitions were delayed, Taylor carries himself like a professional in the weight room, the dining room, the practice field and the meeting room. Taylor carries a notebook into every meeting, a habit he learned from former Boise State cornerbacks (and NFL players) Kyle Wilson and Brandyn Thompson and wants to pass onto the younger defensive backs.
Lake, in his first season with the Broncos, said Taylor is insatiable in his desire for more knowledge on the football field.
He just loves more information, the more information the better. He wants to learn about route concepts, he wants to learn how he can read things and reaction a lot quicker, Lake said. You can just tell he has a passion for football.
With their pair of senior bookend corners, the Broncos defense is on its way to one of the best seasons in school history. And if they keep playing the way they did Saturday, Taylor and Gavins might just live up to the latters eyebrow-raising preseason prediction.
Receivers know where to find them.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444