Scouting report: Boise State defense

When Riley Nelson and the Cougar offense step out onto the field Thursday night, they'll see a Boise State defense similar to what TCU runs. After a bad game against rival Utah, the Cougar offense will look to right the ship in hopes of preventing a second straight loss in less than a week.

Defensive line

Boise State's base defense is a lot like TCU's 4-2-5 scheme. While Boise State's front defensive line won't be as stout as Utah's, they still are very talented despite losing four of their five defensive tackles to the NFL. That should tell you the caliber of defensive linemen Boise State had last year.

DE Samuel Ukwuachu

Looking to be the next star on Boise State's defensive line is 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound redshirt freshman defensive end Samuel Ukwuachu, who is considered a speed rusher who tries to disrupt offensive passing plays by getting into the backfield. Ukwuachu is young and less experienced than BYU's Braden Brown, and the two will be going up against each other.

DT Mike "Bacon" Atkinson

Although redshirt senior Michael Atkinson isn't very tall, coming in at only 6 feet, he is stout at 306 pounds. He'll be squaring up with Brock Stringham, who will have his hands full. Atkinson has a low center of gravity, moves well and is a disrupter.

DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe

At the other defensive tackle position will be 6-foot-3-inch, 296-pound redshirt junior Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, who is from Amsterdam. Like his Dutch counterpart, receiver Geraldo Boldewijn, Tjong-A-Tjoe has been suspended early in the season. However, unlike Boldewijn, his suspension ended after last week's game. He'll be facing Braden Hansen.

DE Demarcus Lawrence

Lawrence is a real power on the Boise State defensive line. A speed rusher, Lawrence is emerging as a star on the defense. Coming in at 6 feet 3 inches and 242 pounds, Lawrence will face redshirt freshman Cougar offensive tackle Ryker Mathews, who has struggled to lock up smaller, quicker defensive ends.

Mathews will have his hands full against Lawrence, a junior college transfer who turned down scholarship offers from Tennessee and Old Miss to play for Boise State. Lawrence already has four sacks on the year and wears a number eight jersey, so he'll be easy to spot on the field. He will be the biggest star on Boise State's defensive line this year. Lawrence had two sacks against Michigan State and a couple quarterback hurries and a knockdown.

Linebackers

Tommy Smith

At 6 feet 1 inch and 238 pounds, redshirt senior Tommy Smith appeared in 12 games last season as a backup at the stud or Mike linebacker position. This is the first year Smith will start at one of the two middle linebacker positions.

J.C. Percy

The boundary side middle linebacker position will be manned by 6-foot, 227-pound redshirt senior J.C. Percy, who came to Boise State as a walk-on from Blackfoot, Idaho. Percy was in the two-deep as a redshirt freshman and has been a hidden gem for the Boise State defense.

Cornerbacks

FCB Jamar Taylor

The best cornerback in the Boise State defense, 5-foot-11-inch, 196-pound Jamar Taylor is looking to possibly be another BSU NFL draft pick. A three-year starter, Taylor intercepted a pass against Arizona State and returned it for 103 a yard-touchdown in the Las Vegas Bowl last year. Taylor will be matched up against Ross Apo on the field side.

BCB Brian Douglas

Generally Jerrell Gavins would be the starting cornerback, and he could see some playing time against BYU, but he's coming off an injury last season. In his place, the Cougars more than likely will see Brian Douglas. The two have switched off back and forth this season, but Douglas has played more minutes. At 5 feet 9 inches and 166 pounds, Douglas will face Cody Hoffman.

Safeties

SS Jeremy Ioane

Coming in at 5 feet 9 inches and 197 pounds, Ioane turned down offers from Notre Dame and Washington to come to Boise State. In the Broncos' season opener, Ioane intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown against Michigan State.

FS Lee Hightower

A true sophomore at 6 feet 2 inches and 192 pounds, Lee Hightower is the second rising star on the Bronco defense. Hightower is emerging within the backfield and is considered a strong hitter. Both Ioane and Hightower are sophomores this season. They're young but they're talented and will be looking to disrupt Riley Nelson's passes downfield.

Rover Dextrell Simmons

In the five-defensive back scheme, 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pound Simmons is the rover of the defense. Many BYU fans will remember when BYU ran the 3-3-5 defense with Aaron Francisco at the Katback position. Francisco covered in the passing game but also moved up to play linebacker or blitzed on occasion. This is a similar role Simmons plays in the Boise State backfield.

Simmons is a redshirt senior who played at Blinn College prior to coming to Boise State. He's a former junior college teammate of NFL Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton. Simmons will be dropping back into coverage and blitzing often, depending on down and distance. The Cougar offense will have to account for Simmons as the rover in Boise State's defense.

Key players

There are three players on the Boise State defense that will be key matchups for BYU's offense. First, BYU has to take care of speed rushing defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. The Cougars struggled on the line during the Utah game, and while Boise State doesn't have a Star Lotulelei or David and Joe Kruger, they do have talent and it starts with Lawrence. BYU's tackles must contain the speed of Lawrence and Ukwuachu to allow the interior of the line to keep the pocket open for Nelson to throw the ball.

Cornerback Jamar Taylor is going to give Cougar receiver Ross Apo a lot of competition. If BYU's offensive line can't give Nelson time to throw, Apo could once again disappear as Nelson tries to get the ball out of his hands to the short side of the field to Hoffman quickly. If Apo is to have success, he must beat Taylor on the edges and get open so the offense doesn't become one-dimensional with Hoffman.

Dextrell Simmons will have to be accounted for as the rover back. He's a versatile player that can cover the pass in space and move up to help with the run. With a five-defensive back scheme, BSU will move Simmons around to create confusion in the backfield and he will test Nelson's ability to read defenses.


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