If you pro-rate Boise State’s defensive stats in the first three quarters of the first two games over a full game, the Broncos would have a top-50 defense (better than that, really, considering the offenses they’ve faced).
If you pro-rate their stats from the two fourth quarters, the Broncos would have the worst defense in the country.
Which is reality?
The Broncos see the glass three-quarters full.
“I can beat ’em up and talk bad about them but they’re playing three quarters,” defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “ We just have to fix the fourth quarter. It’s up to me and (coach Bryan Harsin) to find a way to get that done.”
The numbers are astonishing.
In the first three quarters, the Broncos have allowed 17 points, a 111.03 quarterback rating and 489 total yards.
In the fourth quarter, they have allowed 42 points, a 223.36 quarterback rating and 431 total yards. Opposing quarterbacks are 20-for-30 for 387 yards and five touchdowns with one interception in the final quarter.
The fourth quarter against Ole Miss turned a 7-6 deficit into a 35-13 blowout. The fourth against Colorado State turned a 37-10 lead into a 37-24 final.
“I’m not happy about it,” Harsin said of the fourth-quarter struggles. “ That’s going to be a theme because the first game showed it. That’s part of what we have to deal with right now till we prove otherwise.”
Harsin has emphasized starting fast and finishing strong with his team. He has singled out portions of practice as the fourth quarter and he even broached the subject in the locker room at halftime when the Broncos led the Rams 30-10 last week.
“There’s no such thing as a great half of football,” he told the players.
“We wanted to come out poised,” Harsin said, “but paranoid.
“I don’t think they’re not trying to finish. I don’t think we’re going out looking at our watches saying, ‘It’s 11:55. I want to go home.’ What we’ve seen is the teams we’ve played have gotten stronger. They’ve played better in the fourth quarter.”
Yates and players say the team hasn’t been as focused in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss hit the Broncos with big plays as defenders pressed to make the big play. Colorado State was more methodical as the Broncos protected a big lead.
“This last game was a lack of focus, kind of like, ‘It’s over,’ ” Yates said. “I don’t understand that. To me, when the fourth quarter comes it should go the other way. It should be more of, ‘We need to go to a new level.’ I didn’t see that.”
Players have ruled out fatigue as the culprit. Sophomore linebacker Ben Weaver said the Broncos were in better shape than their first two opponents.
Injuries probably have been a factor — the Broncos lost two defensive starters during the Ole Miss game and a third during the Colorado State game — but Harsin won’t use that as an excuse.
“I’m not sure what it is,” Weaver said.
The only certainties: It’s an ugly trend and it needs to change.
“It kind of leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” senior linebacker Blake Renaud said. “You think the game went well. You don’t want to end playing badly.”
The numbers for opposing offenses:
First three quarters:
Passing: 36-64, 434 yards, two TDs, four ints., 111.03 rating
Rushing: 41 carries, 55 yards, 0 TDs
Total yards: 489
Passing: 20-30, 387 yards, 5 TDs, 1 int., 223.36 rating
Rushing: 16 carries, 44 yards, TD
Total yards: 431
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