BOISE — The Boise State defense allowed a staggering 255 rushing yards in last Thursday’s 36-31 loss to UCF in the season opener — the most given up by the Broncos against a non-triple option team since 2017.
The good news? Players and coaches say the issues and mistakes are easily correctable. The bad news? UTEP rolls into Albertsons Stadium for Friday night’s home opener with three players averaging at least 6.0 yards per carry.
The Broncos ranked top-20 in the country in run defense in 2017, 2018 and 2019. That number dipped to No. 63 last year and sits at No. 116 following the opening weekend of games in 2021.
Only 14 teams in the country allowed more rushing yards last weekend than the Broncos.
“For me that’s the No. 1 stat I look for,” defensive line coach Frank Maile said. “Stopping the run is of the utmost importance, it’s the No. 1 priority and that one I take full blame for because it starts up front. We’re the tip of the spear, we have to do a better job up front and that starts with me.
“I have to prepare these guys better. That was on me 100 percent. We underperformed with the level and the talent we have in my room and we have to be a lot better.”
The 255 rushing yards allowed to UCF were the most given up by the Broncos against a team that doesn’t run the triple option since Colorado State had 261 yards on 52 carries in a 59-52 overtime win for the Broncos in 2017.
It was the third-most rushing yards given up by Boise State to a non-option team in the last 11 seasons.
“Everything was self-inflicted,” defensive tackle Scott Matlock said. “We know we didn’t play up to our standard and a lot of things we can learn and grow from and fix ourselves and execute it a lot better. We know how to do it and we’ve done it right plenty of times.
“This was just us out of character. Obviously a lot of those yards came from the quarterback scrambling and what not and missed tackles. It was a lot of self-inflicted things and fixable things we can learn and grow from. We have to be better.”
Isaiah Bowser, a transfer from Northwestern, had 33 rushes for 172 yards and a touchdown by himself against Boise State’s defense last Thursday. It was the most rushing yards by a single player against the Broncos since New Mexico’s Teriyon Gipson had 205 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries back in 2014.
“We just beat ourselves,” safety JL Skinner said. “Little minor things we can fix like tackling and things like that. They are all easy to fix. We’re just really excited to go out there and show exactly what we can do and how we play football, especially within the run game. That was really just us beating ourselves.
“It wasn’t like UCF was doing anything spectacular. It was us beating ourselves and they are all little fixes that we can bounce back from this week.”
According to coaches, the issues stemmed from poor tackling and an inability to get off blocks and contact along the defensive line to make a play on the ball carrier. UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel also rushed 12 times for 64 yards on scramble plays when he avoided pressure in the pocket.
Boise State secondary combined to account for roughly 40 percent of the Broncos’ tackles in the game — an alarmingly high number and proof that rushers were getting past the defensive line and linebackers on a regular basis.
“The fundamentals have to be better and that’s on me 100 percent,” Maile said. “I have to get those guys ready to rock and roll. I think for us it’s just stressing the importance of fundamentals.”
UCF had 573 total yards of offense in the game, using the success in the running game to set up the passing game. Only eight teams in the country had more total yards in week one than UCF did against the Broncos.
And yet, after all that, the Broncos had the ball with a chance to win in the final minutes.
“Obviously disappointing,” defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said. “The yards we gave up both run and pass, it’s not something we’re proud of and something we have to work to get fixed.”
Head coach Andy Avalos mentioned eye control as a big issue. Several times Boise State defenders fell for head fakes and ended up missing tackles on ball carriers instead of watching their hips. Throw in missed tackles, not creating enough leverage to get off blocks and be able to move to make tackles and it’s not that hard to see why the Broncos had so many issues.
Stopping the run has been a huge focus for the Broncos due to last week’s struggles — but also because of who is up next. UTEP ranks No. 25 nationally in rushing defense through two games at 251.0 yards per game on the ground.
Boise State has long been a strong team at stopping the run. They hope to soon get back to that.
“We’re excited about improving that,” Avalos said. “We know we have plenty of room for growth there.”