By Chadd Cripe
© 2011 Idaho Statesman
San Diego State coach Rocky Long is known for his funky defensive scheme, which is labeled a 3-3-5 but can look like almost anything.
In fact, Boise State coach Chris Petersen called it a 3-5-3 — three linemen, five linebackers and three defensive backs. The players inside the tackle box move around a lot and change roles, while the cornerbacks often play aggressive, press coverage to take receivers out of their routes.
The Broncos and Aztecs meet at 6:02 p.m. MST Saturday (CBS Sports Network).
“No one else runs it,” Petersen said. “They don’t line up in standard positions. They get to their standard positions, but it happens at the snap of the ball.”
The defense will challenge the Broncos’ offensive linemen, who need to identify the rushers before they can block them, and the receivers, who will need to win some 1-on-1 battles with the cornerbacks, offensive coordinator Brent Pease said.
“Sometimes the safeties are linebackers,” Pease said. “Sometimes the linebackers are safeties. They’re just all interchangeable. You can’t ID the players by position. You’ve just got to go off of looks. They’re just all over the place within the box of the tackles.”
Senior linebacker Miles Burris has benefited as much as anyone from the scheme. He is fourth in the Mountain West with six sacks and first with 15.5 tackles for loss.
“From a player’s perspective, it wasn’t too hard to learn,” Burris said. “That’s great that it’s confusing for offenses and not too confusing for us.”
The Aztecs have allowed just nine touchdown passes this season and have 11 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 118.16, which is better than the number posted by the Broncos’ defense.
However, those stats could be misleading — San Diego State has played run-oriented teams Cal Poly, Army, Michigan and Air Force.
Quarterback Kellen Moore and wide receiver Titus Young made the deep ball look so easy last season that it’s been strange to watch the Broncos struggle to incorporate the bomb into the offense this season.
True freshman Dallas Burroughs finally broke the drought last week with a 54-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. It was the Broncos’ first completion this season on a ball that traveled more than 40 yards in the air from the line of scrimmage. Moore threw that pass about 60 yards in total.
“It’s good to get that first deep ball under his belt,” Petersen said of Burroughs, “especially at a crucial situation. Maybe that will give him a little more confidence. Those deep balls are low percentage. They’re not easy — and you bring a new guy to the table there. Hopefully they get a little rhythm going.”
At one point in the TCU game, Boise State was missing three cornerbacks and four tailbacks because of injuries — forcing coaches to go deeper onto the roster than they’d ever like in key situations.
At cornerback, the Broncos have lost starters Jerrell Gavins (played three games, out for the year) and Jamar Taylor (missed most of the last two games, doubtful this week) and top backup Ebo Makinde (pulled a hamstring in last week’s game, out this week).
At tailback, they’d lost starter Doug Martin (missed most of the past two games; likely to play this week), backup D.J. Harper (left in the closing minutes against TCU; likely to play this week), third-stringer Malcolm Johnson (torn ACL in practice before the season) and true freshman Jay Ajayi (torn ACL in practice while redshirting).
They also have been forced to go three deep at center.
“You know you’re going to lose guys during the year — you just hope it’s not at one position,” Petersen said. “If you get a guy here and a guy there, even if it’s one of your top players at a position, you usually feel like you’ve got some guys who can step in and battle pretty well. When you start to get down there pretty deep (on the depth chart), it makes it a little more difficult.”
Petersen on sophomore cornerback Quaylon Ewing-Burton, who slipped from the Broncos’ No. 2 corner after Gavins’ injury to No. 4 and now is back in the starting lineup because of injuries:
“He’s got to be more consistent. That’s the best thing I can say about Kellen (that he’s consistent), so you work backward.”
Burris on playing the Broncos, who are expected to draw close to 50,000 people to Qualcomm Stadium.
“It’s going to be a real fun deal. Everybody knows about Boise State. It will be an honor to have them come play at Qualcomm Stadium. Playing any great team makes you a better team, it ups the competition level. We’re looking forward to it and we’re having fun preparing.”