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September 21, 2009

Boise State offense saves defense in win

BOISE, Idaho (AP) Boise State got all it could handle from Fresno State, bailed out by an offense that matched every second-half Bulldog score with plenty of offensive fireworks.

The No. 10 Broncos' 51-34 victory Friday night still proved costly.

The health of running back D.J. Harper is in question when he did not return after a hard hit in the backfield during the fourth quarter, after he ran for 107 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown scamper early.

Of even greater concern may be the Boise State defense, touted in the first two games for handcuffing opposing offenses. It got taken down a notch after allowing Fresno State to rally from 24-3 deficit in the second quarter. By the end, the Broncos (3-0, 1-0 WAC) had allowed 507 yards on the ground, including 234 by Fresno State running back Ryan Matthews.

"It's a great game for us to be involved in, to be able to fight and pull it out," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "It's very painful in a lot of ways to go through but that's football. I think there's a lot of hard lessons learned and we'll be better for it."

After beating the Bulldogs (1-2, 0-1) in a wild game featuring six scoring plays of 60 yards or more, the Broncos now focus their attention on next Saturday's game at Bowling Green.

It's unclear if the Broncos will have Harper, who injured his leg after being smothered for a loss late. Petersen didn't address his injury after the game. Harper has rushed for 292 yards and three touchdowns this season while sharing duties with Jeremy Avery.

Avery means the Broncos' running game should still be fine, but the coaching staff likes how Harper's more physical style keeps defenses off balance.

The fast and elusive Avery accounted for 269 total yards Friday night, and three plays longer than 60 yards, including the backbreaker in the fourth quarter. He caught a swing pass from Kellen Moore and raced 67 yards to give the Broncos a 14-point cushion.

"We needed that," Petersen said.

They also need to figure out how to get the defense back on track.

It was dominant early, just as it had been in shutting down Oregon and shutting out Miami of Ohio. The Broncos came into the game ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense, total defense, run defense and pass-efficiency defense, and had allowed a paltry 69 yards rushing.

Petersen guaranteed the focus this week in practice will be a return to fundamentals.

"When you can't control the run game, it's not a good feeling," he said. "We had guys in position, we just didn't tackle well. That's the bottom line. We're really fortunate we could miss tackles like that, give up that many yards and points and still come up with the win. It will be good to go back to practice and start tackling."

Despite the setbacks, the Broncos proved they could respond in a hostile environment - on both sides of the ball. The defense ultimately shut down the Bulldogs' final possessions.

And the offense never relinquished the lead, coming up with big plays to match scores with Fresno State in a game that evoked memories of those good old WAC shootouts of the past.

When Fresno State pulled within 27-24 in the third quarter, Avery dashed for 74 yards before fumbling near the goal line. Wide receiver Titus Young, trailing the whole way, pounced on the loose ball in the back of the end zone to put the Broncos up 34-24.

Then, after Matthews peeled off a 69-yard touchdown run to close the gap to 41-34 in the fourth quarter, Avery responded with his touchdown catch.

"It shows our resiliency. Guys just keep fighting back," said Moore, who was 16 of 26 for 181 yards and two TDs. "We were just fortunate to get out of this."


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