By Chadd Cripe
© 2011 Idaho Statesman
Boise State likely will play four cornerbacks in Saturday’s game against Wyoming as coaches continue to search for two consistent performers.
The Broncos will play without either starting cornerback for the fourth straight game, with the exception of Jamar Taylor’s brief appearance against TCU.
Six players have started at cornerback this season. Three of them — true freshman Lee Hightower, redshirt freshman Bryan Douglas and sophomore Quaylon Ewing-Burton — are expected to play against Wyoming. Senior Antwon Murray also will get into the rotation.
Starters have not been named. Douglas and Hightower started last week.
“Right now, it’s the two that have the best week of practice,” defensive backs coach Marcel Yates said, “just because that position is not a solid position as far as who the starter is.”
The Broncos’ defense has struggled in the past four games, allowing about twice as many points per game as it did in the first six games. Taylor played hurt in one of those games, sat out two of them and played about a quarter against TCU. The other starting cornerback, Jerrell Gavins, has missed the past seven games and won’t return until next season.
That has put the defense in a precarious position. Cornerback is the worst position on defense to have a rash of injuries.
Yates compared it to quarterback.
“Those are the two positions where you have to be the most disciplined, and (cornerback) happens to be the position we’re the youngest at now,” he said.
The Broncos have tweaked their defense to protect the cornerbacks, which affects the rest of the defense. That hasn’t been effective because the cornerbacks haven’t covered well in zone, either.
“We’ve been lucky to play a lot of man to man with the guys we’ve had here in the past,” Yates said. “… We’ve done some things to help them out and they haven’t held up their end of the bargain. … It affects the whole defense.”
One of the biggest problems has been “bad eyes” — which means the cornerbacks are looking at the wrong things. Instead of focusing on the receivers, they look at the quarterback. That’s what led to some big plays for TCU.
“Every high school DB, when they come to college, they all have a bad habit of looking at the quarterback,” Yates said. “Most of them are such better athletes (than their opponents) that they can look at the quarterback and still make plays. In college, the receivers are too good. … You can’t cover something you can’t see.”
Said defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski: “They’re just not executing at the level that they need to, and we’re seeing big plays because of it. … They’re hanging in there. We need them to learn a little bit faster. And if they just trust their eyes and trust their techniques, then it usually works out.”
Boise State senior tailback Doug Martin needs 115 rushing yards to crack the 1,000-yard barrier for the second straight season. He already has topped 3,000 career yards — the sixth Bronco to reach that milestone.
Wyoming has one of the worst rushing defenses in the country, ranking 116th at 229.8 yards per game.
“I’m pretty sure every running back wants to get over 1,000 yards during the season,” Martin said. “It would be nice to have, but we have two more games left so we’ll see what happens.”
Martin carried a career-high 36 times last week at San Diego State because backup D.J. Harper (ankle) wasn’t available. Harper is expected to return against Wyoming.
Martin played last week at about 90 percent and hopes to be full strength this week.
“I couldn’t really plant my right foot as hard as I wanted to,” Martin said of the San Diego State game. “During the pass blocking, I couldn’t get my toe in the ground like I wanted. I kind of caused some havoc in the backfield a little bit for (quarterback) Kellen (Moore).”
Boise State’s kickoff and punt teams are the key reason they have dominated field position this season.
The Broncos rank seventh in the nation in net kickoff at 47.2 yards (that puts the opponents at the 23-yard line on average). They aren’t highly ranked in net punting because they punt from near midfield frequently, but they have downed 24 of their 38 punts inside the 20-yard line.
The coverage units also contributed two fumble recoveries last week against San Diego State. Walk-on Josh Borgman had four tackles and a fumble recovery, and the fumble forced and recovered on kickoff involved three true freshmen — Blake Renaud, Lee Hightower and Corey Bell.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys who play with chips on their shoulders,” said junior linebacker J.C. Percy, a top special-teamer. “Some of the guys that are on those teams, that’s their time to shine, that’s the time when they get on the field. They’re going to make the most of it.”
That includes Borgman, who was in returner Leon McFadden’s face as he tried to field a 50-yard punt. McFadden dropped the ball.
“He’s done a great job,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “He’s kind of been one of our special-teams demons for a while around here. He did play his best game. Josh runs well and can make plays. It’s nice to see it all kind of come together.”
The Broncos’ kickoff unit might be the most improved group on the entire team. The group gave up long returns on a regular basis last year.
“We’ve got a lot of speed out there this year,” Borgman said. “We take more pride in it. They call us the tone-setters.”
Boise State quarterback recruit Nick Patti will play in the JuniorRank Sports/U.S. Marine Corps Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Jan. 3 in Phoenix. The Fiesta Bowl is the night before, and it's possible Boise State could be in that game.
Patti, of Orlando, Fla., will play in a high school regional semifinal Friday.
Here's a story in the Orlando Sentinel.
Don't forget that Boise State is selling leftover student tickets at half-price beginning at noon today.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the Bronco Beat readers ...