SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Although Boise State’s defense may not seem great on paper, there is certainly enough talent on that side of the ball to post fits for Arizona and the Wildcats have been consistent in saying that the Broncos’ defense is dangerous.
For starters, you have to understand that this defense is going to give Arizona multiple looks. It may blitz at times, play zone at others, show zone and go into man, or just the opposite. In order to succeed, Anu Solomon is going to have to be able to figure out what Boise State is showing.
Individually, the best player on the Boise State defense has been 6-foot-1, 228-pound sophomore Tanner Vallejo. He easily leads the team with 86 tackles and has 15 tackles for loss. To put it bluntly, it is difficult to imagine this defense playing well unless Vallejo is able to put together a solid game.
Senior Corey Bell is another player that is important, as he has been able to get 52 tackles at the nickel position. There may be other players on defense that are slightly better than Bell, but he is one of the more versatile that the Broncos have.
“Corey is probably the key to our defense because he's been the one that's had to move around so much,” Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. “We moved him from nickel, safety.
“If you go back his junior year, he played some Mike linebacker, Will linebacker. He's moved around the field for us. For him to hang in there and keep playing for us, doing whatever we ask him to do, he's the ultimate team player to me.”
Safety Darrian Thompson is the biggest playmaker of the bunch, especially considering he has intercepted seven passes on the season, is second on Boise in tackles with 61, and has five tackles for loss as well.
In order to contain Arizona’s offense, Thompson believes that the challenge begins with Solomon.
“I think the quarterback is the commander-in-chief,” Thompson said. “He does a great job running the offense. He's the big play-maker, I believe.
“He'll run the ball. If he drops back to pass, gets pressure, he'll find a way to keep the play alive with his feet, find a receiver downfield.”
They have combined for 86 tackles, 28 of them coming for loss, and 14.5 sacks and Boise is able to use both in a variety of ways.
“Beau was a quiet kid that just did his own job,” Yates said. “Now he's been asked to step up. He's our motor guy. He plays with a motor. He plays every snap hard. He goes hard every snap. He's our heart.”
There are certainly more players on the Boise State defense that are capable of making an impact and offensive lineman Mickey Baucus is aware of the overall skill level the Broncos have on that side of the ball.
“They're a bunch of tough, hard-nosed football players,” he said. “They play with great pad level. They all have great motors. They're great at shedding blocks once they're engaged. They're not afraid to be physical.
“Kind of everything you want in a football player, at least a defensive player, they've got. We’re really going to have to come out and execute well to be able to move the ball on these guys.
“Their pursuit is as good, if not better, than any team we've played this season. In a lot of ways I feel like personnel-wise they resonate a lot like us. They're guys who not a lot of people wanted out of high school, have a chip on their shoulders. I feel like a lot of us have that same mentality.”
Players to Watch:#8, Stud end Kamalei Correa: When you have 17 tackles for loss, you’re a player to watch. Correa is a linebacker/end hybrid and a player the offensive line is going to have to account for at all times. #40, NT Armand Nance: Arizona likes to establish the run right up the middle and Nance is going to have to be the guy to make that difficult. If he does not play well, the Boise State defense could be in for a long day. #20, LB Tanner Vallejo: The sophomore linebacker is one of the better players Arizona has seen this season. He is going to be in position to get a ton of tackles with Arizona’s run game and will also be sent at Solomon more than a few times.
Keys to the Game:Attack the edges: Boise State’s defensive speed probably isn’t as good as Arizona’s offensive speed. The Wildcats need to get into space and the best way to do that is to attack the edges. Let loose: It was likely because of Solomon’s injury, but Arizona’s offensive seemed a bit predictable at the end of the season. With Solomon healthy and three weeks to prepare, it would be nice to see some different looks by the offense. Establish the run: You can say this for every football team in the country not coached by Mike Leach, but Arizona is going to try to establish the run early. The more Boise has to respect the run and put players in the box, the more likely it is this offense will have success.