BOISE — The Boise State defense has plenty of areas needing improvement ahead of Saturday’s showdown with No. 10 BYU in Provo.
The one that might help solve everything else? A better performance on third down.
Boise State’s defense ranks No. 110 of 130 FBS teams on third down, allowing opponents to convert 45% of the time.
“We haven’t been great on third downs,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “If we can do a better job executing on third down, we get off the field and we’re not extending drives and we’re keeping ourselves out there even longer.”
The Broncos (2-3) rank No. 96 in total defense at 413 yards allowed per game. They are even worse at 108th nationally in rush defense at 194 yards allowed per game. Boise State’s defense also ranks No. 117 in the country with 30 plays allowed of at least 20 yards.
Simply put: The longer the Boise State defense remains on the field, the more chances opposing teams have at big plays and more points.
In Boise State’s two wins the defense only allowed UTEP and Utah State to convert 11 of 30 chances on third down (36.67%). In the three losses UCF, Oklahoma State and Nevada, the Broncos allowed the opposing offenses to convert 25 of 50 attempts on third down (50%).
“It’s a huge factor in any given game,” co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Kane Ioane said Wednesday. “Any coach and any team, at the end of the day you’re going to look at that percentage.
“When you’re not (stopping teams on third down), you just extend the drives and keep your guys out on the field and in turn we keep our offense on the sidelines. We have to do a much better job of executing ... especially those third and longs, when after we’ve done our job on first and second down, let’s take care of business, lock in and get ourselves off the field.”
The longer conversions on third down have been the most frustrating and damaging to the Broncos. Opponents have converted at least one third-and-11 or further in each of the five games, and the Broncos have allowed 12 conversions on third-and-7 or longer through five games.
Against Nevada last week the defense allowed conversions on third-and-7, third-and-9 and third-and-11.
“It’s huge,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Spencer Danielson said. “Getting off the field on third down or creating takeaways, which we’ve done a good job this year at but we didn’t get any on Saturday, that’s really the life blood of your defense.
“You have to get off the field (on third down). The more plays and opportunities you give offenses, especially a good offense, they are going to make you pay. ... I know we can and we need to be better. It’s a huge part of the game. The longer you stay on the field it’s not going to go well for you on defense.”
Ironically enough, BYU’s offense converts third downs at the exact same rate Boise State’s defense has given them up — 45%.
Boise State’s biggest challenge when it comes to stopping BYU (5-0) on third own — or any down for that matter — will be trying to slow running back Tyler Allgeier. The former walk-on linebacker turned running back currently is the No. 9 leading rusher in the nation at 113.8 yards per game on the ground.
He rushed for an 86-yard touchdown against Boise State last year on The Blue, and just last week against Utah State rushed for 212 yards. The Broncos have seen a number of talented running backs already — but none might have a better NFL future than the powerful 5-foot-11, 220-pound Allgeier.
“Very seldom on film do you see the first guy take him down,” Danielson said. “He runs with great pad level, he’s extremely strong and is very similar to some of the backs we’ve seen.
“I think he’s a very tough runner, explosive, great balance, and you better gang tackle him because of how strong he is and how quick he is at the point of attack. I think he’s a hell of a runner.”
BYU is also dealing with injuries at the quarterback position and could be forced to start a third-stringer against the Broncos. That likely means BYU will lean on Allgeier even more than usual.
“He’ll be playing on Sundays,” Boise State defensive tackle Scott Matlock said. “He runs hard, he’s passionate, he’s a former walk on that worked his way to where he is now. He’s one to stop and we have to make sure we get him on the ground.”
Kickoff Saturday afternoon at sold out LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo is set for 1:30 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by ABC.