By Chadd Cripe
© 2012 Idaho Statesman
The Boise State football team started the season with a young secondary.
And now it’s quite a bit younger.
The Broncos enter Saturday’s game at Hawaii with three freshmen among their top six defensive backs — redshirt freshman starting free safety Darian Thompson, true freshman No. 3 cornerback Donte Deayon and redshirt freshman No. 3 safety Dillon Lukehart.
Each has stepped into a larger-than-expected role because of the suspension to sophomore starting free safety Lee Hightower (this will be his third game missed) and season-ending injury to sophomore No. 3 cornerback Bryan Douglas (this will be his second game missed).
So far, the youth hasn’t hurt the Broncos — who rank sixth in the nation in pass defense at 159.1 yards per game and pass-efficiency defense (99.22). And there’s hope among coaches that it will set them up well for the next two years. They lose starting cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins after this season, but could return Hightower, sophomore starting strong safety Jeremy Ioane, Thompson, Douglas, Deayon and Lukehart — and none of them will be seniors until 2014.
Thompson leads the team with three interceptions.
“I look at Jamar and Jerrell and say, ‘Are you going to let him do that?’ ” defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said.
Thompson has started the past two games but has played some key snaps throughout the season. He recovered a fumble in the opener at Michigan State.
“It’s been very fun to watch him grow each game and now obviously he’s getting a lot of reps, so I expect his play to just explode here down the stretch,” Lake said.
Said Thompson: “It’s just been fun. It’s one experience I’ll never forget.”
Deayon made his college debut last week — immediately moving into the No. 3 cornerback role, leapfrogging a couple more experienced players. He played 10 snaps on defense, a workload that Lake expects to increase from week to week.
Deayon also played on three special teams units.
“Donte was a guy who came into training camp and opened our eyes up,” Lake said. “We knew that we had a player who could play right now, but obviously we had our corners set who we wanted to play this season.”
That changed when Douglas tore an anterior cruciate ligament at Wyoming. By the end of the game, the coaches were talking about playing Deayon the next week against San Diego State.
“He came in there and played 10 plays and played excellent,” Lake said. “This guy shows up every practice, makes plays on the football. He’s very studious, he doesn’t miss a lot of opportunities … so the future is bright for Donte Deayon.”
Before the season, we ran a story on the difficulty of succeeding in the first year after losing a quarterback who finished in the top five of Heisman Trophy voting during his career. Boise State is one of three teams in that category this year. The others are No. 16 Stanford (7-2) and Baylor (4-4).
That makes 25 teams since 2002 that have replaced a quarterback of that caliber and only one — USC in 2003 — has finished with fewer than two losses.
The past 13 teams on the list are a combined 99-57 (63.5 percent). Here’s the list:
Team (QB) Year W-L
Boise State (Kellen Moore) 2012 7-2
Stanford (Andrew Luck) 2012 7-2
Baylor (Robert Griffin III) 2012 4-4
Auburn (Cam Newton) 2011 8-5
Texas (Colt McCoy) 2010 5-7
Florida (Tim Tebow) 2010 8-5
Oklahoma (Sam Bradford) 2010 12-2
Texas Tech (Graham Harrell) 2009 9-4
Missouri (Chase Daniel) 2009 8-5
Hawaii (Colt Brennan) 2008 7-7
Oregon (Dennis Dixon) 2008 10-3
Ohio State (Troy Smith) 2007 11-2
Notre Dame (Brady Quinn) 2007 3-9
Boise State senior linebacker J.C. Percy has been named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team. Percy has a 3.67 cumulative GPA in finance and leads the team with 80 tackles. He’s now eligible for Academic All-America honors.