Air Force Boise St Football

Boise State defensive back Kekaula Kaniho (28) intercepts the ball against Air Force in the second half on Sept. 20, 2019, in Boise.

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The Idaho Press is counting down the 25 biggest questions facing the Boise State football team during the 2021 season. Next up is No. 4: Will Boise State’s defense create more turnovers?

Boise State’s defense had one of its worst years in program history in 2020 in terms of creating takeaways. The Broncos are hoping the return of former defensive coordinator Andy Avalos as head coach helps fix that.

The Broncos had just three total takeaways on defense last year, all interceptions. Only Miami of Ohio, Massachusetts and Bowling Green created fewer turnovers on defense than Boise State did in 2020.

Boise State was also the only team in the country to play at least five games and not record at least one fumble recovery. And the three total interceptions came in at No. 102 of 127 FBS teams.

Avalos returning is a big deal. The Broncos had one of the better statistical defenses in the country while he was the defensive coordinator during the 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. He went to Oregon and had immediate success improving the Ducks defensively as well in 2019 and 2020.

Boise State also made four changes to the defensive assistant coaches. Cornerbacks coach Jalil Brown and safeties coach Gabe Franklin were not retained by Avalos. He brought in Kane Ioane from Montana State to coach the safeties, while former Bronco and Super Bowl champion Jeron Johnson was hired as the cornerbacks coach.

Jeff Schmedding left to join Bryan Harsin at Auburn, and Spencer Danielson took over as inside linebackers coach while also being promoted to defensive coordinator under Avalos. Frank Maile (defensive line) and Stacey Collins (STUDS) were also added after previously working at Utah State.

The fresh minds have brought new drills, new points of emphasis and a new mentality to the defensive side of the ball. It’s a welcome and needed reset for a group that had a frustrating 2020.

The Broncos put a heavy emphasis on turnovers during the spring, even creating a ‘turnover board’ to track which players and position groups did the best. It all appeared to work, at least in the spring. During the spring game in April Boise State’s defense had three interceptions — the same number it had in seven games last season.

Boise State will face a number of tough offenses in 2021 including in the season opener at UCF. The defense is confident things will change from a year ago, and they better be right.

B.J. Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013 and is a three-time winner of the NSMA Idaho Sportswriter of the Year Award. He appears on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket every Friday at 4 p.m. for the Blue Turf Sports report.

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