Boise State knew heading into its Mountain West opener against Utah State on Saturday that containing dual-threat quarterback Kent Myers was going to be of the utmost importance.
Myers tormented the Broncos a season ago in Logan, Utah, scoring four total touchdowns in the 52-26 blowout. In anticipation of his dynamic skill set, Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos showed his unit film of Super Bowl 50, according to nose tackle David Moa. Specifically, he showed the defense footage of the Denver Broncos shutting down Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
They quickly discovered the key to stopping Newton was disciplined containment. The key to stopping Utah State was to contain Myers. And, other than a 45-yard scramble from the quarterback early in the third quarter, No. 24 Boise State’s defense couldn’t have contained him or the Aggies much better.
The Broncos entered the game tied for first in the country in sacks (4.33/game) and sixth in total run defense (72.3 yards/game). Avalos’ group exceeded expectations against Utah State despite not having star linebacker Tanner Vallejo. Boise State sacked Myers four times and allowed just 71 rushing yards in a 21-10 win. The Aggies entered the game averaging 179.3 rushing yards per game. Utah State was just 3-for-18 on third down and gained 358 yards of offense, nearly 30 yards below the team’s season average.
“The first thing Avalos said when he stepped in (as defensive coordinator), he goes, ‘This defense needs to establish a mentality, and that mentality is not feeling like the victim when you step out,” defensive lineman Sam McCaskill said. “It’s a mentality that we’re going to go out and take it to them and they’re not going to get in the end zone. And I think we did pretty (well).”
The first half was particularly prolific for the Broncos’ defense. It allowed 112 yards of offense, 7 on the ground. Though they were without the services of leading rusher Devante Mays (234 yards, 3 TDs), the Aggies still featured three other players with at least 100 yards rushing on the season and an offensive line that starts four seniors.
The Aggies had minus-1 rushing yard in the first quarter and two rushes of more than 6 yards overall. Outside of Myers’ 47 rushing yards, Utah State gained just 24 on 13 carries from running backs Tonny Lindsey and LaJuan Hunt.
“It’s everything. That’s our first goal, every single time coming out as a defense is, we have to stop the run,” McCaskill said. “The minute they establish the run, we have to start scrambling a little bit. So if we can minimize that at the start, that’s huge for us.”
Myers was never able to find any sort of rhythm against a stout Boise State defense. Myers threw for 287 yards on 29 completions. David Moa and McCaskill each had 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup in the game and consistently pressured Myers into inaccurate, off-balanced throws.
“I don’t have an answer (for the sacks),” Moa said. “It goes back to our gameplan. Just getting to them.”
Boise State did not force a turnover in the game but had several near-misses on tipped balls down the field by cornerback Jonathan Moxey. The Broncos’ defense has just two takeaways this season but once again made up for it by living in the opposing backfield. The Broncos had six tackles for loss and nine pass breakups, three by defensive linemen.
“We were really bogged down — we’d have one really big play and then it was an inconsistent play or two,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “Against a good defense like that, you gotta be able to put plays together and finish a drive off, and we weren’t able to do that.”
The defense cruised through the first three quarters despite being put in bad positions by ineffective offense and special teams. The unit found itself in trouble midway through the fourth quarter, however, when Myers found Andrew Rodriguez for a 30-yard touchdown.
Utah State took the field one last time with 1:37 left at its own 8-yard line and received newfound life after a targeting call on Moxey. The Aggies were unable to capitalize and ran out of time after a 31-yard completion from Myers to Rodriguez.
“If you’re going to be a successful team, you play very good defense. That’s just how it is,” Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin said. “They’re doing a good job of going back to and trusting the call, trusting their assignments and playing just consistently pretty well.”