It's a new year...but we weren't finished with the last one yet—at least as far as this series is concerned. Today we'll grade out the defense and while they'll benefit from a post-bowl grading I simply cannot forget some of the sins of the past. I'd make a terrible priest.
Boise State finished the year ranked 9th in the country in rush defense and a lot of that belongs on the résumés of the D-line. Allowing just 3.4 yards per attempt is respectable...especially given the fact that the Broncos faced TWO triple-option teams this year (and every year...ugh). The sack numbers dipped a bit this year (33), but scheme and alignment factored into that as well and I'm willing to grade Steve Caldwell's group on a curve in that department. The unit didn't quite live up to the sky-high expectations we, perhaps unfairly, placed on them in the preseason, but I can't really knock one of the most consistent groups on the defense too much.
Another year and another great job by Andy Avalos to get this group performing at a consistently high level. A few individual tackle numbers dropped (looking at you, Vallejo)...but the 4-2-5 scheme being fully realized and the players becoming more interchangeable (Tyler Gray, Joe Martarano...) make that a tad more understandable. Linebackers still weren't good dropping into pass coverage, but being left on wideouts is a mismatch anyway and shouldn't be happening. Overall, this unit was reliable if offenses managed to elude the grasp of the D-line. Nickels get the benefit of being lumped in with the LBs.
In fairness, I think the defensive secondary should be looked at individually and we'll start with the corners. Consistency was the name of the game in 2015, or rather the lack thereof. Boise State put together a few masterful games CB-wise...but a few were truly disastrous. Whether Julius Brown ultimately paid the price for the shortcomings of the entire secondary remains to be seen, but the Broncos were truly bad when it came to defending "scramble drill" type passing attacks (like the one BYU employs exclusively), and didn't have strong depth at the position when injuries came calling. The CBs were much better against the screen than they were a few seasons ago, but the deep balls seemed like a dicey proposition. Still, they had a hand in 22 team INTs and that's nothing to sneeze at. Let's hope the next DB coach gets this unit really humming, because the talent is there even if the execution is not.
The one major concern...and really the "only" concern that many expressed in the preseason for the defense was the razor thin depth of the safety unit. Well, it turns out our fears were well-founded as Dylan Sumner-Gardner was injured in the 4th game of the season and Darian Thompson had to sit out an absolutely pivotal game against Air Force. The backups didn't fare so well. Sure, Kam Miles showed some flashes...but it was clear the unit lacked experience up and down the depth chart behind senior Thompson and it really bit the Broncos in some big games. The Broncos' huge DB haul in last year's class will pay dividends in the future, but for now the Broncos will really need younger guys to step up. We may enter our second straight Spring Camp with walking wounded at the safety position and even if health doesn't hold up for the entire year...consistency at all levels will have to.
Were the grades too harsh? Not harsh enough? Will the Broncos ever put the triple option in its place? Tell us what you think.