On a whiteboard inthe office of Boise State defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox were three shortlines of writing—no more than a dozen words and numbers total. Wilcox pointedto them as he made what he believed to be the key point in the Broncos' 19--8victory over No. 16 Oregon last Thursday night. "Three base defensivecalls, that's all we gave them," Wilcox said. "There were no gimmicks.It was nothing earth-shattering. This was about lining up and competing harderthan the guy across from you."
There is atendency, when analyzing No. 14 Boise State's rise to prominence over the lasteight seasons, to fixate on the offense, with its many facets, occasionaltrickery and talented players, such as sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore. Butdon't overlook the defense, which stymied Oregon's vaunted spread-optionattack, holding the Ducks without a first down until midway through the thirdquarter and tailback LeGarrette Blount to minus-five yards rushing. Ifanything, it's the defense that could turn Boise State from mere BCS buster tonational title contender.
Says sophomoredefensive tackle Billy Winn, who had a safety in the second quarter when heblew through the line and dumped Blount a couple of yards deep in the end zone,"We let people know we can stop a good offense by playing harder and bydoing what we were told."
The one giving theinstructions for the past four seasons has been Wilcox, the son of Pro FootballHall of Fame linebacker Dave Wilcox. Justin Wilcox, 32, played defensive backfor the Ducks in the 1990s, part of the program's Gang Green defenses, andwould have preferred that his unit's success had not come at the expense of hisalma mater. Wilcox's job in the off-season was to replace six starters from aunit that in 2008 gave up only 12.6 points a game, third best in thenation.
The standout onthis year's defense is senior cornerback Kyle Wilson, the WAC preseasondefensive player of the year who could play at any school. Among the others whoexcelled last week were lanky sophomore linebacker Aaron Tevis (6'3", 214pounds), a lightly recruited player who had a big interception in the thirdquarter, and undersized redshirt freshman linebacker J.C. Percy (6 feet, 214),a former walk-on who forced a fumble early in the fourth quarter. Time andagain the defense propped up an uncharacteristically sloppy performance by theoffense, which fumbled four times, losing three. After the last of thosefumbles, at the Boise 35 midway through the fourth quarter, the Broncos stoppedthe Ducks on downs, effectively sealing the win.
"There are alot of kids who physically can play college football," Wilcox says,"but it is about getting the right ones, the ones who have the intangibles,who will never give up. We have some skilled players, but we have a lot of kidswho just fight. Without them we'd be just another team."
A team like, say,the Ducks, a preseason dark horse for a BCS championship game berth thatlooked, at best, like a middle-of-the-pack Pac-10 team against Boise State. TheDucks showed their only bite after the game, when Blount punched Boise Statedefensive end Byron Hout (who had taunted Blount in some postgame jawing) andthen tried to go after some heckling fans as he was escorted to the lockerroom. Soon afterward Blount apologized, but on Friday he was suspended for theseason. Sadly, his outburst stole attention from the story line that matteredmost: By defeating Oregon, the Broncos passed the biggest test on theirschedule. All that's left between Boise State and an undefeated season and apotential BCS bowl berth are WAC opponents and nonconference foes Miami ofOhio, Bowling Green, Cal-Davis and Tulsa.
"We are justgoing to keep working on taking that next step and becoming a good team,"Broncos coach Chris Petersen says. "We won, but we also learned that wehave a ways to go. We are a work in progress." Make no mistake,however—when it comes to the Boise State defense, progress has been made."I know everyone wants to see us win 55--50," Petersen adds, "butwhat's wrong with winning with defense?"
Not a thing.
SORE POINTS Blount was dropped by Winn for a safety, then threw a postgame punch (left, on video screen) that cost him the season.
DARRIN OSWALD/IDAHO STATESMAN/AP
[See caption above]