Boise State safety Tyreque Jones “had a question for everything” last year during his introduction to college football.
He has answers this year.
Jones, a redshirt sophomore, has started the past two games in place of injured star DeAndre Pierce. He’s coming off perhaps his best game as a Bronco — five tackles, one sack and an additional half of a tackle for loss last week against Portland State.
“I thought he took a big step last week, I did,” defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “I think he had a little bit of a slow start at Marshall and then really challenged himself. I’ve seen him in the film room a lot more.”
Jones is expected to start at field safety again Friday against Air Force (7 p.m., ESPN2). He has tried to take the advice of Pierce, his roommate, and simplify his thought process to avoid some of the confusion he experienced last year during a five-game run in the starting lineup.
“I had a question for everything (last year),” Jones said. “You can’t question everything. You kind of just have to understand stuff. Things come on the fly and we have to move on to the next thing. You’ve got to get with it or you’re going to be lost.”
Jones (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) played wide receiver and safety at San Gorgonio High in San Bernardino, California, where he caught 16 touchdown passes as a senior. But college coaches were unanimous, he said: His future was at safety.
He redshirted with the Broncos in 2017 and was caught by surprise when Pierce’s lacerated spleen put him in the lineup Oct. 6, 2018, against San Diego State — a game the Broncos lost, and one in which Jones says he didn’t play well enough.
“It was surreal,” Jones said. “Being a freshman and being able to play was so much at once. I remember the first game I got named the starter, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I didn’t know who to call. ... I called my little brother and he was going crazy about it.”
Jones started five games as the boundary safety (short side of the field) with veteran Kekoa Nawahine moving to the field side. Then coaches moved Nawahine back to his usual boundary side and inserted Jordan Happle at field safety, putting Jones back on the sideline.
Jones finished his freshman season with 33 tackles, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He set a career high with 11 tackles at Air Force.
“I grew up a lot,” he said. “I had to really realize what type of position I’m in and really see that this is not like high school at all. It’s not. These are Division I athletes. The talent is all there — it’s just who’s going to put in more work, who’s going to take that next step and who’s going to do the extra little things to make their game better.”
He went into the offseason determined to improve his play. He spent time at nickel and both safety positions, preparing himself to contribute in any of the three roles. He knew if Pierce or Nawahine got injured, he’d be the first one in, and that happened quickly in the season opener at Florida State.
“It kind of hit me out of nowhere last year,” Jones said. “But this year, I was already mentally ready for it.”
He credits Pierce and Nawahine with helping prepare him. To ask Pierce a question, he said, “I can just go knock on his door.”
“He studies and he wants to be great and he plays hard,” Nawahine said. “And that’s what’s fun — when you’re out there, he’s playing hard and playing with a lot of passion.”
Jones is part of a defense that has allowed just 17 points in the past five halves, including three straight second-half shutouts against Florida State, Marshall and Portland State. He’s sixth on the team with 11 tackles.
“I really think he’s kind of turning the corner on where he can get to,” Schmedding said. “He’s got a high ceiling, I’ll put it that way, and we’ve got a ways to go, but he’s on the way.”
AIR FORCE AT NO. 20 BOISE STATE
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN2 (Dave Flemming, Jim Mora, Paul Carcaterra)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: Boise State 3-0, Air Force 2-0; this is the Mountain West opener for both
Series: Boise State leads 4-3 (last meeting: Boise State won 48-38 on Oct. 27, 2018, at Air Force)
Vegas line: Boise State by 8
Weather: 66 degrees, partly cloudy, 10-15 mph wind
Note: Boise State is staging a blackout and wearing black uniforms this week.