BOISE — For two schools often renowned for their offense, Boise State and Fresno State’s defenses have taken pride this season in being royal pains in opponents’ sides.
On Saturday, the Broncos and Bulldogs face off, with a combined 35 takeaways to their credit. Boise State’s 3.2 per game through five games is the best ratio in the country, with Fresno State’s 18 takeaways in six games the most among the 124 FBS schools.
“This is one of the better defenses I’ve seen, certainly that we’ve studied this year,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “They’re very, very aggressive. Really, really well-coached. That jumps out at you from a million miles away. They know exactly what they’re doing.”
At Boise State, turnovers have often dictated the team’s finish in games this season. On Sept. 20 against BYU, the Broncos’ only points in a 7-6 win were on an interception return for a touchdown.
In their next game, Sept. 29, the Broncos got three takeaways in the first half, leading 25-0 at the break against New Mexico — they lost three in the second half and eked out a 32-29 win.
Last Saturday at Southern Miss, Boise State forced five turnovers, turning four into touchdowns on offense, in a 40-14 rout.
“It was a good team game, our defense did a great job with those turnovers, and we produced, for the most part, when we needed to,” Petersen said.
While the teams’ defenses have been impressive in taking the ball away, their offenses have also been adept at not giving it back. Boise State is No. 5 nationally in turnover margin (plus-2.0 per game), and Fresno State is No. 11 (plus-1.7 per game).
Not surprisingly, those teams in the top 11 in turnover margin are a combined 50-6 this season.
“There’s no doubt it helps us,” Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr said. “It’s a cliché, but really, if you win the turnover battle, you normally win the game. Getting short fields, getting momentum, all that benefits an offense when your guys on defense get that ball back for you.”
Of the 17 turnovers the Broncos have created (doing it in just four games), two have been run back for a touchdown and the offense has converted eight, scoring seven touchdowns — all in the last two weeks. Fresno State, of its 18 takeaways, have scored on the return or on offense 16 times off those turnovers.
“You know it’s a team effort, so if you can get the ball back and go down and score, that feels really good, being able to kind of cash it in for the defense,” Boise State tight end Chandler Koch said.
Of course, the two defenses won’t be going head-to-head Saturday, but whichever creates more turnovers will be in prime position to end the weekend atop the FBS in takeaways — a fact which is pushing the home team.
“It’s a great feeling (to have 17 takeaways), but we’re not No. 1 … that’s the plan, to be No. 1, until we get there, we’re not going to be satisfied,” Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor said.