UNLV football:

Boise State much more than the trick plays that put program on the map

The Rebels are 28-point underdogs on Saturday in Boise, where the Broncos’ defense has taken center stage after Kellen Moore’s departure

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Associated Press

LasVegasSun.com Sports Talk

Where does UNLV go after its cannon misfire?

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Ray Brewer, Case Keefer and Taylor Bern diagnose UNLV football's heartbreak against that team to the north while giving Rebels fans some life with info on the newest basketball recruit.

Trick plays are sort of a double-edged sword for Boise State football. On one hand, they thrust the Broncos into the national consciousness, because if you didn’t know about them before the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, you sure did after a hook-and-ladder, then a Statue of Liberty, took down Oklahoma.

Problem is, a lot of people never moved off that narrative. Certainly, having an undersized yet prolific guy such as Kellen Moore at quarterback from 2008-11 only furthered this idea of a plucky program that finds diamonds in the rough on the recruiting trail and pulls out the bag of tricks against the top programs.

That’s not a bad reputation; it just doesn’t happen to be true. Not anymore, at least.

Boise State (5-1, 2-0), which is moving to the Big East for football next season, doesn’t have to dig around in other teams’ leftovers anymore. They can go out recruiting and flat-out beat people to get top guys, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said.

The Broncos' 2007 recruiting class, the one right after that Fiesta Bowl victory, has sent at least eight people to the NFL, including Las Vegas High grad Billy Winn. Any thought that Boise State coach Chris Petersen has to piece this thing together year-by-year like a traditional non-BCS team is laughably outdated, and that’s never been more evident than this season.

UNLV (1-6, 1-1) travels to Boise for Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game on NBC Sports Network. This is what now counts as a rebuilding year for the 24th-ranked Broncos, who early in the year struggled on offense as everyone got used to the post-Moore era. Pieces have started to fall in place, though, with a lot of credit due to sixth-year senior running back D.J. Harper, another member of that 2007 recruiting class.

Throw out the first two games — he had eight yards in the Broncos’ loss to Michigan State and an unreal 162 yards on 16 carries against Miami (Ohio) — and Harper has been the steady force of the offense. He had at least 98 rushing yards in three of the four games and two touchdowns in the other one.

Even more than Harper, Moore’s absence has shed a light on Boise State’s defense, the piece that’s carried them in games when the offense sputtered.

“I’ve always thought our defense has been overshadowed here for a long, long time,” Petersen said.

Hauck agreed. Unlike the reputation of the offense, deserved or not, for trick plays, the Boise defense does its work without many gimmicks.

“It’s not tricked up, but it’s good,” Hauck said.

In last week’s 20-10 victory against Fresno State, the traditionally 4-3 Broncos defense occasionally switched to a 3-4 front with various zone blitzes from the linebackers or cornerbacks. Despite playing with fewer men up front, Boise State held Fresno State running back Robbie Rouse to just 77 yards on 25 carries. Even after that performance, Rouse is still the 12th-leading rusher in the nation, a couple of notches ahead of UNLV’s Tim Cornett.

The Broncos can make changes like that because of their skill level up front. Cornett’s backfield reliever, Bradley Randle, said Boise State may have the best defensive line the Rebels will play all season.

“They’ve got really good movement, really good stunts,” Randle said. “… It’s going to be a front game.”

On game tape, it was defensive end Demarcus Lawrence and nose tackle Greg Grimes who jumped off the screen for Randle. Lawrence ranks third in the league with 5.5 sacks.

Boise State’s attack against UNLV starts with that defensive line. And while it may look different than past years, it’s really just easier to see.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Which Rebel Team will we see Saturday playing on that ugly Smurf Turf in Boise