No linebackers? No problem.
Senior linebacker Tanner Vallejo did not play in Boise State’s 42-25 win over UNLV on Friday night and is out for the remainder of the season after undergoing wrist surgery, head coach Bryan Harsin said.
Junior linebacker Joe Martarano was carted off the field with a left leg injury in the first quarter and will miss next Friday’s game at Air Force, Harsin also confirmed.
Sophomore linebacker Leighton Vander Esch did not suit up for the seventh straight week. Even Ben Weaver, the Broncos’ stalwart up the middle all season, trotted out for Senior Day introductions wearing what appeared to be a shoulder wrap.
Despite several moving parts, the Boise State linebacking corps, led by senior Darren Lee, held its own against a normally stout Rebels run game. The Broncos allowed 77 yards on the ground in the first half and 189 total, a far cry from the 252.7 UNLV averaged coming into the game (14th in FBS).
The Broncos held UNLV to 302 total yards.
“Darren Lee has started for us. Darren Lee has played a lot. Darren Lee is going to be ready to go. Darren Lee is a tremendous leader,” Harsin said. “Tanner not being out there, not having Leighton out there, that unit, we’ve had some injuries and things happen to it.
“And then you have a guy like Darren Lee that continues to, each and every week, step up and make plays. ... Guys respect him when he has to go out there and step up.”
Linebackers, including juniors Blake Whitlock and Kam Miles, accounted for 34 of the team’s 68 total tackles Friday night. The unit took every punch that the Rebels threw and countered back with stronger swings of their own.
Lee led Boise State with 11 total tackles and partially blocked a punt early in the third quarter. Whitlock chipped in six tackles while Miles had three and saw some of his most extended playing time of the season.
“You never want to see a guy go down like that. Joey’s battled so hard to come back (from injuries this season). To see it happen this late in the season is just heartbreaking,” Lee said. “But when we all study together, and we all have our assignments down as a team, it’s not one man for himself. We’re a unit. When guys go down, it’s just the next man to step up.”
UNLV had 9 yards on eight carries in the first half prior to a 77-yard drive late in the second quarter that included 69 rushing yards. The normally explosive Rebels running game averaged 4.3 yards per carry in the game (5.7 season average) and had a long of 17.
Star freshman running back Charles Williams, who entered the game with a team-high 665 yards, had 50 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Kurt Palandech led the team with 64 on nine attempts.
“I think they did a good job containing us all night. I have to give them a lot of respect,” Palandech said. “They just had a good scheme.”
Though the Broncos were able to dominate UNLV’s run game without the services of Vallejo and Martarano, next week against Air Force will likely provide a tougher challenge. The Falcons’ triple-option attack ranks No. 3 in all of college football, averaging 310.1 rushing yards per game.
Air Force has defeated Boise State the last two seasons, the latest a 37-30 win on the blue last year.
"We'll be ready,” Lee said. “Every team has scholarships, every team has good players. At the end of the day, I'm not worried about our athleticism. We're a really fast defense. We're really fast when we know what we're doing ... If we just really mentally attack the game plan this week, this next week going into Air Force, no doubt in my mind we'll be fine."