BOISE – It’s no secret that Boise State has had its struggles with tackling in the first two games this the season.
Coaches counted about 30 missed tackles in the 38-6 loss at Washington, and although that stat improved in last week’s 63-14 win over Tennessee-Martin, the Broncos still showed lapses in taking down the Skyhawks.
Coach Chris Petersen said two of the biggest factors in Boise State’s tackling woes are an inexperienced defense (only four returning starters) and facing spread offenses.
“When you create space, you’re going to miss tackles,” Petersen said. “We’ve got to get more guys to the point of attack. One guy is not going to make the tackle in space. If you see one guy missing tackles, it’s probably not just his fault; other guys need to get over there and help him.”
The NCAA implemented new enforcement to its targeting rule this fall — a player flagged for targeting (contacting defenseless opponent above the shoulders) is ejected. If the infraction occurs in the second half, the offending player is ineligible for the first half of the next game.
Boise State has been proactive this past offseason and continue to train its players to lower their “strike zone” on tackles.
Could being conscientious of the new ejection rule for targeting be partly to blame for the Broncos’ high number of missed tackles?
“Nope. Not at all,” said Petersen.
Coaches won’t use the new rule as a crutch. It’s not in their nature. But maybe it really is affecting players.
“It’s something I still have to think about because it’s brand new to me,” said safety Darian Thompson. “I’ve been playing football since I was 7, and I hadn’t really thought about going low and hitting them in the strike zone.
“I feel like that’s a huge factor. That’s something we really had to change, something the coaches talked about a lot during fall camp and they still talk about it now. Whenever we do tackling drills, you’ll hear them say, ‘Strike zone, strike zone. Stay in the strike zone,’ because we don’t want anybody suspended.”
Has Thompson caught himself over-thinking the targeting rule during games?
“Yes, in the Washington game, and that play ended up being a missed tackle,” Thompson said. “I think I just put my eyes down, worrying about the strike zone and trying (not) to get suspended.”
Know Your Foe: Good eyes and technique, Thompson said, are the keys to Boise State’s defense this week.
Sure, the Broncos need to be prepared for the Falcons’ option, but Petersen emphasized that, “they have a bunch more in their arsenal.”
Petersen called Air Force’s offensive line “feisty” and the Falcons will run a bunch with Broam Hart, Jon Lee and Anthony LaCoste. Quarterback Jaleel Awini (who started the season as the backup to Kale Pearson before the latter was injured in a 38-13 season-opening win vs. Colgate) is a dual threat who will run as much as he throws. He completed just 4 of 12 passes last week in a 52-20 home loss to Utah State, but the Falcon receivers dropped at least five passes — two in the end zone.
Youth Movement: The only team in the Mountain West Conference younger than Boise State (10 returning starters) this season is Air Force (nine returning starters).
The Falcons entered this season with just 124 combined career starts on its roster, which is the fewest in the nation. The Falcons have played nine true freshmen already this season and 14 others played in the first collegiate game of their career.
For Boise State, 25 players made their college debut in the first two weeks.
“That’s what’s kind of fun to watch a young crew like that,” Petersen said. “Each week you can kind of see some progress. That’s what it’s all about and it’s all we can ask.”