BOISE — Eight months of hearing about the lack of turnovers apparently was enough for the Boise State defense.
After finishing with just three takeaways last season — nearly the worst total in the country — the Broncos sit near the top nationally with eight turnovers on defense through two games.
“What you emphasize is what you get,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said.
The Broncos spent all offseason focused on trying to create better habits and be in better positions to get more interceptions and fumble recoveries. The work has paid off to this point.
Boise State ranks No. 2 nationally with eight takeaways in two games. They have five interceptions, which ranks No. 3 nationally, and three fumble recoveries, which is No. 7. The Broncos are also tied for No. 3 with a turnover margin of plus-6.
“It’s been awesome,” defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said. “It’s a huge focus for us and our players have really grabbed hold of it and you can see the habits start to come to life that we’ve been working on from the spring to the fall.
“Hopefully we can keep getting them. It’s been cool to see our guys (get rewarded) because they work on it with the drills, after practice catching balls, ball searches, punching the ball out — it’s been huge and it’s been cool to see it pay off for them.”
But Boise State’s defense hasn’t just been satisfied with the takeaway. The Broncos have positive return yards on all eight takeaways — including five of at least 25 yards. Four of Boise State’s five interceptions have been returned at least 27 yards, while Ezekiel Noa had a 25-yard return after recovering a fumble against UTEP.
Boise State’s 216 yards on interception returns is No. 1 in the country — and far ahead of No. 2 Iowa’s 132 yards.
“Whenever we get the ball we want to score,” Danielson said. “We want to be the best return team in the nation. We talk about it on defense — you get that ball and everybody else will start creating that wall and we’re going to go score.
“Just getting that mentality of when you get the ball in your hands, let’s go score. If we don’t let’s set up the offense. That’s what the defense (tries to do), get the ball back for our offense and help out field position for our team.”
Boise State has one defensive touchdown, a 100-yard interception return for a score by Tyric LeBeauf in the season opener at UCF.
But despite the nice start, Avalos, Danielson and safeties coach Kane Ioane were all quick to point out this week that none of the takeaways carry over to the next game. Eight is nice, but the Broncos can’t slow down or change things now.
“We’ve been grateful, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves with the takeaways,” Avalos said. “We have to continue to practice it every day because we need those. They are huge for momentum. We have to keep building off that.”
HOLANI SHOULD BE FULL GO FOR OKLAHOMA STATE GAME
Running back George Holani appears ready for a full workload against Oklahoma State — which should be a huge boost to Boise State’s struggling running game.
Holani missed the opener against UCF due to an unknown injury and was eased back into action with five carries against UTEP. He scored on a 10-yard run on his first play and finished with 22 yards on five carries.
“We were happy to have him out there,” Avalos said. “He was real close in the first game, but it wasn’t the right thing to do. He hadn’t reached full speed in some time. We were excited to have him back out there and we should be beyond that now. He’s in shape, he’ll have two weeks of practice underneath his belt and fatigue won’t be a concern.”
Holani rushed for 1,014 yards as a true freshman in 2019, but he saw action in just three games last season due to a knee injury.
“He’s a talented player and can make things happen,” Avalos said. “Getting him back healthy and being able to get him in the game more is a ‘to do.’”
Avalos confirmed Holani was on a snap count against UTEP, but should be full go against Oklahoma State, similar to the progression wide receiver Khalil Shakir made when he was on a snap count against UCF, but had no limitations the following week against UTEP.
Boise State’s rushing attack could really use a healthy Holani. The Broncos rushed for just 20 yards at UCF and rank No. 125 of 130 FBS teams with an average of just 70.2 rushing yards per game.
“George is a great player and when he’s out there we’re going to be a better team,” offensive coordinator Tim Plough said. “He is an explosive player, probably one of our most explosive players on the entire offense. If he gets in space and he’s one-on-one with somebody, him and Shakir are probably the two we feel best about in that scenario.
“We had him on the pitch count and it’s funny — first carry he scores. That’s what great players do. Obviously we’re hoping George gets healthy and can play more in the game. ... I’m keeping my fingers crossed there’s no restrictions on him. I’m hoping he’s full go. I do think he’ll have a higher load for sure, but how much that is I think we’ll see as the week goes on.”
NO UPDATE ON IGIEHON
Boise State senior defensive tackle Scale Igiehon was removed from the depth chart this week and won’t play Saturday against Oklahoma State. It’s unclear when Igiehon will return.
The Broncos announced shortly before last Saturday’s game against UTEP that Igiehon had taken a leave of absence for personal reasons.
Asked Monday if he would play again this season, Avalos said only, “We released the statement and that’s all we’re going to say.”
Saturday’s game is not sold out yet, but only limited tickets remain. Due to the ticket office being short staffed, fans are encouraged to purchase tickets online at BroncoSports.com.