Defending The Crown

With a break in the Bronco season, it's time for reflection. One bright spot has been the tenacious play of the Boise State defense. How good is this unit and how do they compare with past Bronco groups of immovable objects?

The Boise State teams of 1999-2006 featured some pretty stratospheric numbers by the Bronco offense. This fall, the defense has emerged as the stars. They held Weber State to 7 points, shut out Washington the second half, and then held Wyoming to 14 points. Which brings to mind top Bronco defenses of the past.

There's the great early defenses of the Broncos, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1973…The 1969 defense held opponents to 176.5 yards per game, the others mentioned are all in the top five in Boise State history as well. That '69 defense was built on stopping the run, allowing a meager 40.7 yards per game. The 1970 defense held the opposition to a record low of 104.9 passing yards per game. The 1968 Bronco defense once held Whitworth to a minus 16 yards for the entire game!

Steve Forrey was one of the stars in the early years, setting the school record with four interceptions against Idaho State in 1968. Forrey had 12 for the season and followed up with another eight the following year. Steve is the Bronco career record holder with 24. Ken Johnson played alongside Forrey and is fourth all-time with 14 picks. Greg Frederick was another star from that era in the defensive backfield. Linebacker Ron Davis was one of the leaders of the 1973 team with 120 tackles, ball-hawking defensive back Gary Rosolowich was another.

The great 1979 team allowed just 108.5 yards per game through the air; the 1991 Broncos allowed 84.4 yards per game on the ground.

Another way to evaluate top defenses of all time is to look at how well their players were recognized. Linebacker Steve Svitak was an All-American in 1969. The 1979 defense featured one All-American (defensive tackle Doug Scott) and two Honorable Mentions (linebacker Ralph Esposito and strong safety Rick Woods). In 1980, Woods was once again an Honorable Mention pick while defensive tackle Randy Trautman made the All-America team. The following year, Woods finally was recognized on the First Team along with Trautman, linebacker John Rade was named to the Second Team and nose tackle Michel Bourgeau made Honorable Mention.

The 1986 team has to be mentioned here because five Bronco defenders were Honorable Mention All-Americans: linemen Pete Kwiatkowski and Lance Sellers, linebackers Jim Ellis and Rex Walters and defensive back Maury Moore. In 1988, defensive end Erik Helgeson won the first of three consecutive All-America awards, joined by strong safety Kenny Kuehl on the Second Team and linebacker Scott Russell as an Honorable Mention selection. The national runners-up from 1994 also merit consideration, featuring two All-Americans, defensive back Rashid Gayle and end Joe O'Brien. It was that unit that held Appalachian State and Marshall in check to allow the Broncos to come from behind in dramatic I-AA playoff victories.

Still another comparison would be to look at the number of defenders that went on to the pros. Defensive lineman Faddie Tillman, who played on the 1968 and 1970 units, was Boise State's first pro player with the New Orleans Saints. Rolly Woolsey played from 1972-74 and went on to play 44 games with the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Cardinals. The 1979-81 Broncos featured five pros: Woods, Bourgeau, Trautman, Rade and Scott. Woods was a star with the Pittsburgh Steelers for five years and also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bourgeau starred for both Ottawa and Edmonton in the Canadian Football League for nine seasons. Rade starred with the Atlanta Falcons for nine seasons. Trautman caught on with Calgary of the CFL while Scott was a first round pick of Montreal in the CFL and starred there for several years.

Marcus Koch, Chuck Butler and Carl Keever were leaders in 1982 and '83 and went on to play in the National Football League. Koch was a star for the Washington Redskins for six seasons and helped them win a Super Bowl. Butler played for the Seahawks while Keever was a San Francisco 49'er.

The Bronco defenses from 1984-1986 featured cornerbacks Frank Robinson and Chuck Compton, defensive end Lance Sellers and linebackers Keever and Jim Ellis who played in the National Football League; Koch also played in 1984 and ‘85. Robinson was named to the Bronco 35 team and played for both the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, while Sellers also played for Cincinnati. Compton played for the Green Bay Packers while Ellis played with the Los Angeles Raiders. Gayle played from 1992-1995 and played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, while teammate Chris Wing played with the New York Jets. Another member of that 1994 team, linebacker Stefan Reid, played for Ottawa of the CFL.

But comparing the 2007 Bronco defense to those early units is like comparing apples to oranges. Those Tony Knap teams were awesome, no doubt, but were playing at a much different level than the elite Broncos are now. A better comparison would be to look at the Division I-A Broncos and evaluate the new Bronco "D" against those teams.

In their first season in I-A, the Broncos allowed 5,422 yards and 459 points, averages exceeding 451 yards and 38 points per game. They have come a long way since then. The '99 team allowed 337.2 yards and 21.3 points per contest, a marked improvement. The defense gave up just 221.7 passing yards per game and just 115.5 yards on the ground. In 1999, Boise State qualified for and won its first Division I-A bowl game over Louisville. Boise State recorded 17 interceptions on the season, including three each against UCLA and Louisville, and recovered 12 fumbles. The opportunistic Broncos scored three defensive touchdowns that season. Kareem Williams scored on both a fumble return and an interception return and Shaunard Harts turned the tide of the game in the Humanitarian Bowl with his pick six. Defensive end Mike Maloy and linebackers Bryan Johnson and Kareem Williams were selected to the All-Big West Conference team. Johnson is now a fullback with the Chicago Bears. Other stars included defensive lineman Mike Davisson, linebacker Greg Sasser, cornerbacks D. Ross and Damien Schilling, free safety Quintin Mikell and strong safety Marcel Yates

The following year, the Bronco defense gave up 363.7 yards and 22.8 points a game. Boise State won another bowl game over UTEP and set a school record with five defensive players on the all-conference team. Cornerbacks Dempsy Dees and D. Ross, ends Zach Weber and Jeff Copp and Mikell were all honored. Those units also included Hammer, safety Shaunard Harts who played 51 games with the Kansas City Chiefs, and linebacker Greg Sasser. The Broncos picked off 11 passes and recovered 11 fumbles on the season. Harts and Julius Brown both scored on interception returns for the Bronco defense.

The 2002 Broncos burst through the glass ceiling with a national Top 15 ranking. Quintin Mikell made All-Western Athletic Conference as well as Third Team All-American from his strong safety position and helped the Broncos put away Iowa State in the Humanitarian Bowl. Mikell is still with the Philadelphia Eagles in his fifth season. In the magical 2002 year, Boise State gave up a meager 18.5 points per game despite playing the likes of Arkansas, Hawai'i, Fresno State and Iowa State. Boise State allowed just 109.4 rushing yards, 230.8 passing yards and 350.2 yards total offense per game on the season. The Broncos held Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace (now playing for Seattle) to just 13 of 38 passing for 107 yards and the entire Cyclone team to 275 yards of total offense. Boise State picked off 19 passes on the season and recovered 12 fumbles. Safety Travis Burgher had an interception return for a touchdown against Wyoming while Brown had a fumble return for a touchdown against Utah State and linebacker Chris Barrios had an interception return against Fresno State and Chauncy Ako had a safety against Louisiana Tech. The 2002 defensive unit also included defensive linemen Bobby Hammer and Tony Altieri, cornerbacks Brown and Gabe Franklin and safeties Wes Nurse and Travis Burgher.

The next year, the Bronco defense began to make strides that continue to this day. Linebacker Avalos, Nurse and end Julius Roberts were named to the All-WAC team and the Broncos won the Fort Worth Bowl over TCU. The 2003 Broncos took on Oregon State, BYU, Fresno State, Hawai'i and TCU and allowed just 17.1 points a game, a school record low for Division I-A. Boise State gave up 104.4 yards on the ground, 246.7 through the air and 351.1 per game total in '03. The Bronco defense intercepted 21 passes and recovered 11 fumbles. Nurse had an interception for a touchdown against BYU while Franklin had a fumble return for a touchdown against San Jose State. Other stars included defensive tackle Alex Guerrero Linebackers Burgher, Ako, cornerback Julius Brown and safeties Chris Carr and Cam Hall. Guerrero is with the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe and Carr plays for the Oakland Raiders.

In 2004, Boise State allowed 25.7 per game. The Bronco defense allowed just 103.9 yards a game on the ground. They gave up 258.9 per game through the air for a total of 362.8 yards of total offense per contest. Boise State held Utah to 60 yards rushing on 25 carries. They also limited Fresno State to 17 yards rushing on 17 carries and 191 yards total. Avalos, Franklin and linebacker Korey Hall were honored as All-WAC players as Boise State finished the regular season undefeated and played in the 2004 Liberty Bowl against Louisville. Boise State's defense again intercepted 21 passes and recovered eight fumbles. Korey Hall and Avalos both had dramatic highlight interceptions for touchdowns; Hall's turned the game against Oregon State while Avalos had a record-breaking interception of 92 yards for a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl. Linebacker Chris Barrios also had a pick six against Hawai'i and safety Cam Hall had an interception for a TD vs. Nevada. Franklin went on to play for the San Diego Chargers, Carr is with the Oakland Raiders and Hall is starting at fullback for the Packers. Other members of that great unit included defensive linemen Guerrero and Mike Dominguez, Linebacker Colt Brooks, cornerback Gerald Alexander and Hall and Carr at safety. Alexander was drafted by and is playing for the Detroit Lions.

Although 2005 was a disappointing year by Bronco standards, the team still allowed just 107.9 yards per game on the ground despite going against strong ground games of Georgia, Oregon State, Fresno State and Boston College. The Broncos allowed 261.8 aerial yards for a total of 369.7 per game. Guerrero and Hall were named to the All-WAC team.

The undefeated 2006 Broncos eclipsed all teams before them setting Division I-A school records in three top categories. Boise State allowed just 17.6 points per game despite facing high-scoring offenses such as Hawai'i, New Mexico State and Oklahoma. The Broncos allowed just 89.8 yards a contest via the ground game despite a schedule that included Oregon State and Oklahoma. Boise State ranked eighth nationally in rushing defense. The Broncos allowed 194.9 passing yards per game in the pass-happy WAC that included Hawai'i's Colt Brennan, San Jose State's Adam Tafralis, Chase Holbrook of New Mexico State and Nevada's Jeff Rowe. Overall, that's a mere 284 yards of total offense per game, good for 14th in the country. The 2006 Bronco defense set school I-A records in rushing defense, passing defense and total defense and just missed the I-A scoring defense mark of 17.1. They intercepted 20 passes and recovered 11 fumbles on the year. Boise State's "D" set a school I-A record with four defensive touchdowns. Free safety Marty Tadman had a 98-yarder against Louisiana Tech and a huge pick six against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, cornerback Quinton Jones had a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown against Wyoming and linebacker Colt Brooks had a pick six against Utah.

Despite those amazing numbers, Boise State's WAC brethren honored just two members of the '06 Bronco defense on the all-conference team, Hall and defensive tackle Andrew Browning. Bronco fans recognize the amazing talent on the unit that included linemen Mike G. Williams, Dennis Ellis, Mike T. Williams and Nick Schlekeway, linebackers Brooks, Kyle Gingg and David Shields, cornerbacks Jones, Orlando Scandrick, and Kyle Wilson strong safety Gerald Alexander and free safety Marty Tadman.

A bye week allows fans to reflect on the season so far. This year, it's an early bye with much more of the season to come. While the 2007 Bronco defense is off to a good start, they've got some pretty big shoes to fill.

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