Boise State defense looking to create more turnovers

Boise State defensive back Kekaula Kaniho (28) breaks up a pass intended for Hawaii wide receiver Zion Bowens (6) during a game Nov. 21, 2020 in Honolulu.

B.J. RAINS [email protected]

BOISE — Only three teams in the country — Miami of Ohio, Massachusetts and Bowling Green — had fewer takeaways on defense in 2020 than the three recorded by Boise State.

Boise State was the only team in the country to play at least five games and not have at least one fumble recovery, while the three interceptions in seven games ranked No. 102.

Simply put — the Broncos were one of the worst teams in the country creating turnovers last fall.

“It was kind of a bad year for us,” safety Kekaula Kaniho said bluntly.

Enter a new coaching staff — including four new defensive assistant coaches and a head coach with a defensive background — and the emphasis has understandably been on trying to create more turnovers heading into the 2021 season.

“We’re definitely way ahead of where we were the past few years and it’s been a lot of fun flying around with the guys and getting everybody back on the same page,” Kaniho said. “We have some new stuff too that we’re doing. The energy has been great and we’ve been improving for sure.”

Coaches created a ‘turnover board’ to track how many turnovers the defense has created this spring and by which players. The defensive backs alone have 19 takeaways heading into Wednesday’s practice, according to Kaniho.

At the start of each defensive back meeting coaches show clips from the turnovers and near-turnovers in the previous practice. They then update the turnover board and check the standings heading into that day. A group including Tyric LeBeauf, JL Skinner and Seyi Oladipo are tied at the top with three.

What’s on the line? Food.

“Whoever gets the most takeaways is going to get some good food,” Kaniho said. “That’s kind of the motivation right now, to get to the top of that board and get a good meal.”

New cornerbacks coach Jeron Johnson and safeties coach Kane Ioane also have added a new twist to the end of drills — a football. Every individual drill during practice ends with a player either catching a ball or scooping one off the turf.

The coaches — which also includes defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson and head coach Andy Avalos — are also teaching new techniques and doing new drills from what was done in the past. It’s all centered around one thing — getting the ball back for the offense as often as possible.

“It’s just a constant reminder,” Kaniho said. “We’re thinking about it the whole time.”

While the defensive backs have been the ones coming up with most of the turnovers, Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier credited the improved defensive line as one of the reasons why.

Bachmeier named Scale Igiehon, Scott Matlock, Shane Irwin and Devine Obichere as those standing out along the defensive line this spring. The consistent pressure up front has led to some of Bachmeier and the other quarterbacks’ interceptions.

“I think our defensive line is very special,” Bachmeier said. “We have some really good guys upfront that are very, very physical, so when you have guys like that up front you are able to do some different exotic looks and bring some different pressures and it’s tough to pick up and tough to do some things in the pass game as well because they can kind of mix up their coverages and stuff because you are getting exotic looks up front.”

Adding to the storyline is that Boise State will have a pair of new starting cornerbacks in 2021 after seniors Avery Williams and Jalen Walker elected not to use their extra year of eligibility. Markel Reed is a leading candidate to start at one spot while Bowling Green transfer Caleb Biggers (who doesn’t arrive until the summer) could be in line at the other spot.

Tyric Lebeauf, Kaonohi Kaniho and Jonathan Earl are among those also in the mix to earn bigger roles in 2021 at corner.

Skinner and Tyreque Jones are the favorites to start at safety with Kekaula Kaniho at nickel.

“We’re doing a lot better job of finishing — catching the ball, getting the ball out at the end of plays and really just searching for the ball the whole time and when it’s up in the air going to go get it,” Kaniho said.

“From a mentality and identity standpoint, you’re going to see a lot more relentless defense and one that swarms around and plays more aggressive and physical. That will be the biggest change.”

Boise State’s new-look defense will be on display Saturday at 3:30 p.m. inside Albertsons Stadium during the annual spring game. Limited $5 tickets still remain at