Considering who was returning, it was easy to peg Boise State’s defense as one that would among the best in the country.
Considering who left, and who isn’t able to play, perhaps that’s a reason it seems from the outside the Broncos have yet to reach that level this season.
Leighton Vander Esch’s void has clearly been a big one, but the Broncos also have been without safety DeAndre Pierce and defensive tackle David Moa the last month because of injury — and they likely won’t get either back.
Cornerback Jalen Walker, who was tied for third on the team in tackles in September, has not played since Oct. 6. Nose tackle Sonatane Lui has missed the last two games and defensive end Durrant Miles missed the second half of last Saturday’s game at Air Force.
“No excuses for anybody on our team ... injuries happen, you lose people along the way,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “Not having DeAndre Pierce, one of our smartest players, best tacklers, not having David Moa playing ... we’re missing some guys on that side of the ball, but we have guys that can step up and play.”
The Broncos rank 51st nationally in scoring defense (24.6 points per game) and 44th in total defense (359.3 yards per game). Last season, they finished 38th and 22nd, respectively.
Saturday’s opponent, BYU, could certainly make some of those numbers look better come next week — the Cougars are 120th in the FBS in total offense (326.4 ypg) and 111th in scoring (22.8 ppg).
“It definitely affects us a little bit ... other guys have to step up behind them, and we have to do a better job being ready each and every week, whoever we play,” senior STUD end Jabril Frazier said.
But last year, Boise State stayed remarkably healthy on defense, with only STUD end Sam Whitney a starter that missed multiple games to injury. On Saturday at Air Force, nickel Kekaula Kaniho played a good amount of cornerback with Walker out.
Tyreque Jones, starting in Pierce’s place, had 11 tackles Saturday at Air Force, and Chase Hatada has played well in Moa’s absence.
“It provides opportunity for other guys to step up ... we’ve got to learn from previous mistakes and learn from what we’ve done well, continue to build on those things,” defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.
Boise State has yielded 27, 28 and 38 points the last three games, but after giving up 28 first-half points to the Falcons on Saturday, allowed 10 the rest of the way. Coaches said there was very little scheme changes, but that the players simply stopped making the mistakes that led to big plays. And for the fans who were concerned, it isn’t something the staff is glossing over.
“It’s always a little bit easier to learn when you get a victory, but we’re definitely going to have to learn from the first half,” Avalos said.
BYU AT BOISE STATE
When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Kevin Brown, Andre Ware, Alex Corddry)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 6-2 overall (won 48-38 at Air Force on Saturday); BYU 4-4 (lost 7-6 to Northern Illinois on Saturday)
Series: Boise State leads 6-2 (Broncos won 24-7 on Oct. 6, 2017 in Provo last meeting)
Vegas line: Boise State by 13 1/2
Weather: High 40s, cloudy
Tickets: Office on the west side of Albertsons Stadium, visit BroncoSports.com/tickets or call 208-426-4737.