Brian Murphy: Depleted Boise State defense does just enough in victory

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comNovember 2, 2013 

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Kharyee Marshall is not a defensive tackle. He hasn't practiced there in his entire Boise State career. Yet there was the senior defensive end lined up in the interior of the line, battling centers and guards, late in the Broncos' 42-30 victory at Colorado State.

There was Robert Ash, a seldom-used sophomore defensive lineman, taking more snaps than ever before in his Boise State career, pressuring Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson and fighting for loose balls.

Boise State's defensive depth chart is just a piece of paper now. It doesn't bear much resemblance to the Broncos' actual lineup.

Late in Saturday's game, the Broncos barely had an actual lineup. Boise State just sent 11 players out there and tried to get to the end of the game.

"We've got guys playing in positions they've never even practiced in. That's just how it is at this point in the season," coach Chris Petersen said.

Boise State has been hit hard by injuries all season, but it reached critical mass this week and Saturday evening. Starting defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe didn't make the trip after experiencing concussion symptoms after a practice.

In stepped Tyler Horn, recovering from a shoulder injury of his own. Horn had 10 tackles, including one sack and two for a loss. Ash, once a highly touted recruit who has been shuttled between the defensive line and offense line, got extensive action.

And when Justin Taimatuia, Tjong-A-Tjoe's listed backup, left the game with an injury, Marshall - who left the game in the first half with a hand injury - entered the game at defensive tackle.

The results weren't all that pretty.

The makeshift group allowed a season-high 626 yards and 35 first downs to Colorado State. The Rams rushed for 229 yards. Grayson threw for 397 yards on 36 completions.

But no one in blue and orange was going to complain. Not on this night.

Not with standout linebacker Ben Weaver sidelined with an injury.

Not with safety Darian Thompson unable to complete the game.

Not with freshman linebacker Tanner Vallejo, who is playing for the injured Blake Renaud, banged up, too.

How do you defend the run when you're not even sure who is going to be lining up next to you?

"It can be tough. We have dudes playing positions that haven't played that position at all this season. There were guys stepping up," said linebacker Corey Bell, one of the Broncos' few defensive starters to make it through the game.

Colorado State ran 109 offensive plays - a difficult assignment for the healthiest of units. Instead, this defense is being held together with baling wire and duct tape.

Next man up? It might be Buster Bronco.

Linebacker Jonathan Brown returned to the field for the first time since the season opener against Washington - and was needed. Safety Dillon Lukehart, suspended in the first half for targeting, was playing in place of Thompson in the final frantic moments as Colorado State tried to erase a 42-17 deficit.

The Broncos, what were left of them, made just enough plays.

"We really appreciate how hard they play. We made some plays. We've got what we've got right now and those guys are battling and we're really proud of them for going that hard," Petersen said.

Said Horn: "We're really thin, every position. Guys are stepping up everywhere. It's cool to see. … We've got a bunch of guys out here that want to battle."

Now they just want to rest. And regroup. And recover. And maybe do a body count. It's possible that no bye week has ever come at a more opportune time than Boise State's.

It might even give Marshall some time to practice at defensive tackle.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444; Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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