Boise State Spring Game: A defensive display

Broncos' defense strong as starters defeat backups in BSU Spring Game.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comApril 13, 2014 


    Passing: Hedrick 15-23-1 144 yards, Finley 10-12-0 128 TD, Stuart 6-9-1 29, Miller 0-1-0 0.

    Rushing: Ajayi 10-70 TD, Demas 6-20, Thomas 5-4, Hedrick 4-4, Finley 4-(-18), Fields 3-4, Stuart 3-1, Williams-Rhodes 2-34 TD, Johnson 1-2, Wolpin 1-(-1).

    Receiving: Williams-Rhodes 9-81, Sperbeck 6-35, Dean 3-25, Thomas 3-0, Demas 2-86 TD, Roh 2-41, Burroughs 2-19, Ware 1-7, Reed 1-4, Hardee 1-3, Fields 1-0.

    Tackle leaders: Renaud 6, Lukehart 5, Martarano 5, Page 5, Martin 4, Perez 4.

    Interceptions: Blue, Lee

    Sacks: Renaud 2, Bell 1.5, Lee 1, Martin .5

    Other: Maston, forced fumble; Nance, fumble recovery

The scoreboard showed that the Boise State football team's starters beat the backups 21-7 on Saturday evening at Bronco Stadium.

It did not show the true winner - the defense.

That group collected four turnovers and five sacks, with the second-team defense often stopping the first-team offense. Even one of the touchdowns came from the defense - senior cornerback Bryan Douglas returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against the scout team.

"I really do like the way that our defense plays," offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said. "That's a great challenge every day for us. Those guys are playing well up front. We've got to get back to just knowing that we can move people off the football."

The first-team offense relied almost exclusively on the playmaking ability of two of last year's stars - tailback Jay Ajayi and wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes, both juniors.

Ajayi carried 10 times for 70 yards and a touchdown. He appeared to score a second touchdown but officials ruled he fumbled out of the end zone before he crossed the goal line.

"He's really special when he finishes runs and has his pad level down," Sanford said. "He's hard to bring down."

Williams-Rhodes made nine catches for 81 yards, including a 59-yard gain on a shovel pass that set up Ajayi's 1-yard TD plunge. Williams-Rhodes also rushed for 34 yards and a touchdown.

"He was always open, I guess," said senior quarterback Grant Hedrick, who was 15-for-23 for 144 yards with an interception. "That guy is electric. It's fun seeing him with the football."

Added Sanford: "That dude can play, and you see that more playing live football than you do in just a normal spring practice situation."

No one else on the first team made more than two catches. Senior Matt Miller, who likely will break the school record for career receptions this season, didn't have a catch.

Sophomore Thomas Sperbeck made six catches for 35 yards with the second team. Redshirt freshman tight end Jake Roh grabbed two passes for 41 yards with the first team.

Coaches say they need more playmakers to emerge.

"We took a couple shots to Matt - didn't get them, but we tried," coach Bryan Harsin said of Miller, who was productive all spring. "The guys who have been making plays in the practices we kind of went after and Shane showed up again."

The second-team offense was run mostly by redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Finley, the likely backup this year. He was 10-for-12 for 128 yards and a touchdown.

The score came on a quick throw to sophomore tailback Devan Demas, who darted up the sideline 82 yards untouched.

Demas also rushed six times for 20 yards - the only tailback other than Ajayi to gain more than 4 yards.

"Devan Demas has speed and he can catch the ball out of the backfield," Sanford said. "If that guy gets a crease, he's got a chance. So that's a guy that we have to utilize. … He's going to earn himself a role if he just continues on the current trajectory and doing things the right way. He can be a home-run threat for us."

On defense, senior linebacker Blake Renaud (team-high six tackles, two sacks), senior nickel Corey Bell (1.5 sacks), redshirt freshman nickel Dionza Blue (interception of Hedrick) and senior nickel/cornerback Mercy Maston (forced fumble with a big hit on tailback Derrick Thomas) made significant plays.

"Blake and Corey are two guys who have done that in practice," Harsin said. "… That's consistency - they're probably more consistent than most players right now and it's a credit to those guys and how they practice and operate. But that's a day-to-day deal when we come out here. I like what Blake is doing. I like what Corey is doing. And those two guys have stood out."

Renaud and Bell are part of an experienced back seven of the Broncos' defense. Every starting linebacker and defensive back returns, along with several backups with multiple starts.

"Getting a whole new coaching staff and new plays, we were a little bit rusty at first and messing up a lot," Renaud said, "but I thought towards the end of the spring we all came together as a defense and communicated way better and were a lot more physical."

NOTES: The attendance was 13,822, more than a 4,000-fan increase over last year but well short of the school record of 17,123 from 2012. … All of the injured players who didn't compete in the Spring Game are expected to participate in the summer conditioning program and be healthy for the start of fall camp Aug. 1, Harsin said. … The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game vs. Ole Miss will begin at 5:30 p.m. MT Thursday, Aug. 28, in Atlanta and air on ESPN. … The Broncos ran a version of Statue Left. Ajayi gained 11 yards on second-and-11.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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