Boise St Utah St Football 22

Utah State running back Calvin Tyler Jr. (4) runs past Boise State defensive end Shane Irwin (55) on Saturday.

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BOISE — Asked about his team’s success in the red zone defensively through four games, Boise State coach Andy Avalos pointed to a problem that’s led to needing so many stops near the goal line — allowing big plays.

Boise State’s defense ranks No. 116 of 130 teams defensively with 24 plays allowed of at least 20 yards.

“We have to improve our discipline with certain techniques and in particular our communication and eye control so we keep ourselves out of being down there so much,” Avalos said of the red zone defense. “Limit our situations and the amount of times we’re down there, that’s going to be a huge to do this week.”

Sure the Broncos have had plenty of success in the red zone — they rank No. 6 nationally in red zone defense and have given up just five touchdowns in 14 red zone trips by their opponents.

But it’s what happens that leads to that point that is concerning for Avalos and his coaches moving forward. The Broncos have given up nine plays of 30-plus yards and five plays of 40-plus yards. Oklahoma State also had a 75-yard touchdown run against the Broncos which changed the game.

As a result, Boise State ranks No. 97 in the country in total defense at 418.0 yards allowed per game.

Against Utah State the Broncos allowed 443 yards but used three turnovers, three red zone stops and two fourth down stops to limit the Aggies to just three points.

“We gave up way too many yards on explosive plays,” defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said. “I was proud of the guys with how they responded when they came up, but we can’t give those up.

“We’re looking at the schematics of it, looking at how we’re teaching some of those things to help limit those because we can’t give up that many explosive plays.”

Boise State defines ‘explosive plays’ as a 12-yard rush or a 15-yard pass. The Broncos have given up 36 explosive plays through four games, including 19 rushes of at least 12 yards and 17 passes of at least 15 yards.

Last week against Utah State the Broncos allowed a season-high 12 explosive plays, six on the ground and six through the air.

“We’re going back to the drawing board and looking at how we’re teaching things and making sure we’re putting our players in the best situations and making sure we take time for the fundamentals and technique of the schemes,” Danielson said. “We can’t give up those explosive plays.”

Tackling was a major issue against Utah State. On numerous plays it appeared Boise State’s defenders were more concerned with trying to strip the ball than tackling the ballcarrier. Both Danielson and Avalos also mentioned eye control and communication as keys to improvement.

“It’s everybody on the field, but it starts with us too as coaches to make sure we’re refining what we’re doing in terms of the fundamentals and the techniques up front that help whether it be in the run game or the pass game,” Avalos said. “Obviously our coverage techniques and being able to communicate and making sure we’re on the same page within each coverage and executing the techniques with our eyes and feet and making sure we have proper leverage.”

Safety JL Skinner leads the Broncos with 45 tackles and ranks No. 2 nationally with an average of 11.25 tackles per game. But it’s not always a good thing for a safety to be the top tackler. That means offensive players are getting past the defensive line and linebackers and into the back of the defense before being brought down.

Limiting big plays will be especially important when the Broncos host Nevada at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Albertsons Stadium. The Wolf Pack lead the country with an average of 2.3 plays per game of at least 40 yards.

Nevada, which had a bye last week and has only played three games, already has 41 plays of at least 10 yards — an average of 13.6 per game.

“It’s our techniques and our fundamentals really,” cornerback Tyric LeBeauf said. “In this last game, I gave up a slant that still haunts me to this day. I gave up a slant and I tried to go for the ball instead of simply tackling the guy. It’s just little stuff like that we can take care of that will take those (big plays) away.”

B.J. Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013 and is a three-time winner of the NSMA Idaho Sportswriter of the Year Award. He appears on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket every Friday at 4 p.m. for the Blue Turf Sports report.

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