© 2010 Idaho Press-Tribune

BOISE — It was only last year when Boise State’s defense looked about as vulnerable as it has under coach Chris Petersen.

On Sept. 18, 2009, the Broncos were torched for 320 yards rushing and yielded 34 points in a 51-34 win at Fresno State. The Bulldogs came into Friday’s game with 525 yards on the ground in their two previous contests.

Running back Robbie Rouse had at least 116 yards in his last four games coming into Friday, but was held to only 70 yards by the Broncos, who gave up just 49 net rushing yards.

“Seeing what they did to us last year on the ground, we really wanted to get some redemption for that,” Boise State safety Jeron Johnson said.

In November, the Broncos have won their three games against Hawaii, Idaho and Fresno State by a combined 145-21. In those three games, the teams came in averaging 435.6 yards per game before facing the Broncos — and have been held to an average of 212.3 yards per game against Boise State.

“I hope it’s our best game, because we’re trying to get better every week,” defensive end Ryan Winterswyk said Friday night.

After Boise State held pass-heavy Hawaii to its lowest yardage total since it went 0-12 in 1998, Petersen said he was “surprised” by his defense’s showing. Again Friday, he said similar.

“It’s certainly not how I thought the game was going to go,” he said.

A coach can’t expect a team to be that dominating week in and week out, can he?

It’s a recurring theme with Petersen, and he’ll draw maybe his toughest challenge with one of the best rushing teams in the nation on the road against Nevada on Friday.

“It has been (recurring), but I think we’ve got a whole different challenge next week, so hopefully I’m surprised one more time,” Petersen said.

Something else that has been a weekly story is the dominance of the Broncos’ defensive line, where success begins, as any coach would tell you.

The Broncos had a trio of sacks and forced a fumble in Friday’s win, pressuring Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn relentlessly, and also stuffing Rouse at the line of scrimmage. The praise often trickles in from around the nation — Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel posted on his Twitter page: “The Boise D-line is just absurd. Putting on a clinic. Best in the country hands down.”

Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams said Saturday after a win over Miami that Boise State’s defense was the best he has seen.

“They can play against anybody because they play good enough defense,” Fresno State coach Pat Hill said. “Their offense is very good, but they can play defense with anybody — and that’s the key to being an elite team.”

Hill had never suffered a loss as large as Friday’s margin of defeat, and also had not been shut out since 1998 — his second season as the Bulldogs’ head coach.

Not only is Boise State’s starting 11 among the best, but the depth has been pivotal this season, with players moving in and out to stay fresh and give offenses different looks. With the starters out Friday, the second-teamers kept the shutout intact against the Bulldogs’ first-team as Fresno State drove in the final minutes, but had the clock run out at the Boise State 15-yard line. Idaho had 93 yards in the fourth quarter the previous week in Moscow.

“I was very excited at the end of the game to see the backups come in and do a great job of shutting them out,” Boise State receiver Titus Young said. “They still had their starters in … it was very impressive to see them bounce back from last week.”

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