© 2010 Idaho Press-Tribune

BOISE — Safety George Iloka said two weeks ago to hold off judgment of the Bronco defensive backs until after they played Hawaii.

Well, Boise State held Warrior quarterback Bryant Moniz to 127 yards passing, 234 below his average. Six days later, at Idaho last Friday, the Broncos held Nathan Enderle to 118 yards, 160 below his average.

It’s probably safe at this point to say the Boise State cornerbacks, safeties and nickels are pretty good.

“I think we’ve been making plays,” cornerback Brandyn Thompson said. “It’s one thing to be there to make the play, but another to actually do it. Where we play, you naturally get all the credit or all the blame.”

After a bit of a hiccup Oct. 26 against Louisiana Tech, when the Bulldogs had 222 yards through the air (tied for the most the Broncos have yielded in 2010), Iloka and company felt a bit of outside criticism.

In response, senior safety Jeron Johnson said the unit was putting the Hawaii game on their shoulders. In the past two weeks, two teams that had been in the top five nationally in passing have scored just once through the air.

“I really haven’t noticed much of a difference in terms of their preparation,” coach Chris Petersen said. “I heard that comment, and I was kind of surprised. I didn’t notice anything different, but I think that’s a credit to those guys.”

The nature of the beast is that the big offensive plays are the ones people remember, not necessarily the pass breakups or the noose-like coverages. Being on the wrong end of a big play is enough to scare a defensive back straight and keep his focus on simply getting the job done.

“You don’t want to end up on SportsCenter,” Johnson said. “We don’t really need to talk about confidence, because that can backfire. You want to play with it, let it show on the field and let that do the talking.”

When the Broncos knew they’d be facing pass-heavy teams in the Warriors and Vandals, there seemed to be an extra push to get better, though effort is something the coaches expect, and typically receive, even if facing a run-first offense like Nevada.

“I don’t think you can just turn it on and turn it off,” Petersen said. “Now, can you be a little bit more motivated? And then you’re splitting hairs. A lot of times that’s the difference.”

The symbiotic relationship between the guys furthest from the ball and those closest has also been a part of the group’s success. The Broncos are second in the nation in sacks, with pressure forcing quarterbacks into bad passes, and also good coverage allowing the linemen to get more time to chase down the passer.

“Their defensive backs play really well together,” Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn said. “They’re aggressive, which has helped them a lot. You can’t undervalue that pass rush, because that helps those DBs do what they do best.”

Boise State picked off three Idaho passes last Friday, with Thompson hauling in a pair of them.

A bit of extra motivation facing talented passing teams, that strong defensive line and a run at an unbeaten season, is making the defensive backs’ hard work pay off.

“We know what’s at stake, and we’ve been practicing hard,” Johnson said. “It’s showing up right now.”

Then again, the Broncos wouldn’t be who they are without a dash of humility.

“By no means are we satisfied,” Thompson said. “We still have three games left.”

Boise State's starting defensive backs

SAFETY JERON JOHNSON

THE SENIOR leader of the defense was named a midseason first-team All-American by SI.com. He has registered 46 tackles, an interception, and blocked a punt last Friday against Idaho.

Johnson’s 289 career tackles are 15th all-time at Boise State.

“He’s a great influence back there,” cornerback Brandyn Thompson said. “Not only is he a good player, but he’s just a born leader.”

SAFETY GEORGE ILOKA

SECOND ON the team in tackles with 47, Iloka has broken up five passes and forced a fumble. He is far and away the team’s leader in solo tackles with 36 (Johnson is second with 23).

“I think George is in the same mold as Jeron,” coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s getting better all the time.”

CORNERBACK JAMAR TAYLOR

TAKING OVER for the departed Kyle Wilson, Taylor has stepped in admirably, with two forced fumbles, which is tops on the team. The sophomore has started eight of the Broncos’ nine games.

“Jamar’s a physical guy, he kinda took over what Kyle was doing last year and is doing a great job with it,” quarterback Kellen Moore said.

CORNERBACK BRANDYN THOMPSON

COACH CHRIS Petersen said Thompson has never changed since his arrival in Boise, and he means it in the best way possible. The three-year starter has three interceptions and six pass breakups in his senior year, both tops on the team.

“We’ve had nothing but the utmost respect for Brandyn, his work ethic and his approach to this game,” Petersen said. “He’s the epitome of a guy you want to coach.”

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