No. 19 Boise St. adjusts to losses on defense

For the second straight year, Boise State has to adjust to the

loss of key players in the secondary of its highly ranked

defense.

But this year, the No. 19 Broncos (7-1, 4-0 Mountain West) are

confident they have enough senior leaders and seasoned

underclassman to avoid the kind of meltdown that contributed to a

late-season loss to TCU last year that spoiled an undefeated season

and any lofty postseason plans.

Coach Chris Petersen said Bryan Douglas, who started the first

three games and the No. 3 cornerback, will miss the rest of the

season after tearing an ACL in last week’s 45-14 rout at Wyoming.

Petersen also said starting safety Lee Hightower’s suspension for

violating team rules will remain in place at least through

Saturday’s matchup with San Diego State (6-3, 4-1).

Hightower, who has 31 tackles and one interception, was

disciplined last week and didn’t travel with the team to Wyoming.

Petersen declined to share any details of the decision and was

clearly irritated when quizzed about the status of the redshirt

sophomore Monday.

”I haven’t talked to Lee,” said Petersen, offering no

timetable for Hightower’s return. ”He is not back this week.”

Petersen also said Dextrell Simmons, who plays a hybrid

linebacker/defensive back position, is day-to-day after leaving the

Wyoming game early with an undisclosed injury.

For now, Hightower will be replaced by redshirt freshman Darian

Thompson, who has played in all eight games, mostly in nickel and

dime packages. Thompson has 24 tackles, two interceptions and the

confidence of coaches to step into a starting role.

”At this part of the season, I think everybody’s role

increases,” said Petersen. ”If you don’t have enough guys with

four games left in the season, that’s how it goes.”

With the win in Laramie, Wyo., Boise State won its seventh

straight and sits alone atop the conference standings, one game

ahead of Fresno State, San Diego State and Air Force. The Broncos

also edged up to No. 19 in the BCS Standings, and if they can go

undefeated the rest of the way, elbow into the top 16 and beat out

a champion from one of the automatic qualifying conferences, they

would earn an invitation bid to one of the prestigious postseason

bowls.

But the setbacks in the secondary at this point in the season

are eerily reminiscent of last year when the Broncos suffered a

rash of injuries to key players that left the backfield reliant on

Hightower and other young, inexperienced defenders down the

stretch.

Starting cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, along with

backup cornerback Ebo Makinde, were rehabbing from season-ending

injuries when the Broncos – undefeated and ranked No. 5 at the time

– met the Horned Frogs on Nov. 12 with the conference title on the

line.

TCU and quarterback Casey Pachall wasted little time exploiting

the Boise State’s youth. Pachall threw for 473 yards and five

touchdowns, including scores of 75, 74 and 69 yards in the first

half. The Broncos rallied in the second half, but the comeback fell

short when kicker Dan Goodale’s last-second field goal sailed wide

of the uprights, ending Boise State’s BCS and conference title

dreams.

The good news is the Broncos still have three of its four

starters in the secondary. Taylor and Gavins are healthy and

anchoring a pass defense that has forced 23 turnovers and ranks in

the top ten nationally in scoring, passing yards allowed and

passing efficiency defense.

Taylor ranks second on the team with 40 tackles and has two

interceptions, while Gavins has one pick and a fumble return for a

TD. The duo is also a big reason the Broncos are allowing an

average of 165 yards per game through the air.

Taylor says he and Gavins are ready to assume a leadership role

with their younger teammates, whether it’s extra communication

before the snap to spending more time with them during film

study.

”I think it just makes us better, to get the young guys in

there to learn a little more,” Taylor said. ”Obviously we want

our guys, but we’ve got to have guys to carry the flag and keep the

ball rolling.”

Still, Petersen and his staff are considering filling the void

created by Douglas’ injury with a freshman pegged to take a

redshirt this season. In the past, Petersen has resisted the urge

to pull a redshirt late season, but acknowledged the need to add

some depth in the backfield.

”We’ll keep our fingers crossed that we stay relatively healthy

from here on out,” Petersen said.