Boise State secondary faces big test

Boise State safety George Iloka knows what people are saying: that the secondary is the weak link of the defense.

He disagrees, of course, but he realizes the big test that awaits the defensive backs Saturday against pass-happy Hawaii (7-2, 5-0) on Saturday. The Warriors have the No. 1 passing offense in the country behind Bryant Moniz, the only quarterback in the nation with over 3,000 yards.

Receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares are each averaging 100 yards a game, both ranking in the Top 7 nationally.

“We haven’t played a receiving corps like the Hawaii team we’re about to face, so here’s our real challenge as a secondary,” Iloka said in a telephone interview. “As a secondary, you have to want games like this against big-time receivers.”

Louisiana Tech was able to make a few big plays in the passing game last week, and so were Virginia Tech and Oregon State. That has led to some alarm from fans who are concerned about the play of the secondary headed down the stretch.

But this is a unit that has remained largely untested. Hawaii may want to try to take advantage of Jamar Taylor, who has taken over at cornerback for first-round pick Kyle Wilson. But no matter who is back there starting for No. 4 Boise State (7-0, 3-0), Hawaii will keep on passing.

That is just the style the Warriors play, a version of the Run and Shoot that can give teams fits. Moniz has simply followed in the footsteps of Colt Brennan and Timmy Chang before him. He has grown more comfortable in the complicated offense, and has two great receivers to help him out.

“The more games I’ve played, the better I’ve gotten,” Moniz said. “That’s just chemistry and getting on the same page. Strengthening my arm has made me make throws I might not have been able to get into tight spaces last year.”

Running back Alex Green has also emerged for Hawaii. There is no question this is a vastly different team than the one Boise State beat 54-9 last season. Moniz was making his third start in that game, but got knocked out near the end of the first quarter with a concussion.

“He’s just in a really good rhythm and groove,” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. “He reminds me of all those other guys they’ve had. They work in the pocket well and they throw it all over the field. It’s just not short it’s just not deep. From hash to sideline, you have to cover them all at all times.”

So what is the key to slowing down such a high-powered offense?

“You have to make sure the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw,” Iloka said. “If he can’t throw the ball, the receivers won’t get the ball. But we have to play sound football in the secondary -- keep everything in front of us, make tackles when you’re supposed to. As long as you don’t give up the deep ball, you’re somewhat fine. But if the D-line gets back there, that would be awesome.”

The Boise State front has been called one of the best in the nation. The Broncos are No. 4 in sacks, averaging 3.4 in a game with 24 total on the season. They also rank No. 3 in tackles for loss with 8.4 a game.

Hawaii has given up its fair share of sacks this season, with 21 total. No doubt Boise State will try to bring pressure to slow down Moniz. If the Warriors are going to pull the upset, then they are going to need a big day out of him.

“We all know the stakes,” Moniz said. “It’s a big game for us, and for our program.”