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‘Consistency’ matches ‘confidence’: Boise State defense (6 sacks) stymies North Dakota

After Boise State’s Marco Notarainni had a strip-sack of North Dakota quarterback Tommy Schuster on Saturday, fellow linebacker Andrew Simpson scooped up the ball and returned it 17 yards.

The defense, which had a rough first two games this season, was off and running.

The Broncos limited North Dakota — the FCS division’s top offense — to just 183 total yards in a 42-18 victory at Albertsons Stadium. It was Boise State’s first win of the 2023 season after giving up 568 yards at Washington and 530 against UCF last week.

“It’s awesome. There’s not really many ways to describe it. It’s just awesome,” Notarainni said. “We put a lot into it mentally, physically, a lot of hours in here and a lot of guys just banged up, like, all the time. It’s just football. So it’s an emotional game for sure, and just to kind of see everybody smile in the facility after the game was just awesome to see.”

Boise State linebacker Andrew Simpson takes off after picking up a fumble Saturday in the second quarter, caused when Marco Notarainni sacked North Dakota’s quarterback.
Boise State linebacker Andrew Simpson takes off after picking up a fumble Saturday in the second quarter, caused when Marco Notarainni sacked North Dakota’s quarterback.

Boise State defensive players had plenty of reasons to smile Saturday in a game that kicked off at 10 a.m. The Broncos (1-2) held the Fighting Hawks (2-1) to an average of just 2.8 yards per play after UND had averaged 8.25 yards per touch through its first two games.

“They knew the type of team that was coming in here today,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “I’m just really proud of the defense and how they handled that. There was a variety of gadgets that we had to defend today. That team right there, that offensive line that we faced today, that’s a good offensive line.

“The toughness they played with, the mentality they played with, it challenged us today, and it was good for us. It gives us an experience to learn and grow as we move into conference play.”

The Broncos totaled six sacks for a loss of 50 yards, as Notarainni (1.0), safety Zion Washington (1.0), defensive end Ahmed Hassanein (1.5), safety Ty Benefield (1.0), edge Demitri Washington (1.0) and defensive tackle Braxton Fely (0.5) all got in on the action.

It was the most sacks in a game since they had six against New Mexico last season.

And after giving up a combined 36 explosive plays in their first two games, the Broncos limited the Fighting Hawks to just three passes that went for 15 or more yards. The visitors had no runs that covered at least 10 yards.

“I think we’ve had a lot of confidence this year, like I said before, it’s just the consistency aspect of things,” said Notarainni, who led the defense with a career-high 13 tackles. “I think we showed that a little bit more today on defense, which was awesome.”

Boise State safety Zion Washington wraps up North Dakota receiver Bo Belquist in the third quarter of Saturday’s win at Albertsons Stadium.
Boise State safety Zion Washington wraps up North Dakota receiver Bo Belquist in the third quarter of Saturday’s win at Albertsons Stadium.

While the Boise State defense made major strides, the offense put up more points than it did in its first two games combined. But it didn’t come without a bit of trouble. Starting running back Ashton Jeanty fumbled twice, losing both, and starting quarterback Taylen Green threw his fourth interception of the season, on a ball that was catchable and bobbled by tight end Riley Smith.

Green now has more interceptions (4) than touchdown throws (3), and another throw in the red zone hit a North Dakota safety right in the hands, but he dropped it.

“I’m not going to keep talking about it,” Avalos said, “we’re going to do a better job taking care of the ball.”

While Jeanty’s blistering yardage through the first two games was slowed — he finished with 73 all-purpose yards and three TDs — redshirt sophomore receiver Eric McAlister had a career game. McAlister totaled 143 receiving yards and two touchdowns on six catches. Both of his TDs came in the second half, on receptions of 28 and 27 yards.

“(Receivers coach Matt) Miller in our meetings always talks about being the most physical receiver out there,” McAlister said. “I think if you go out there and run a full-speed, physical route, I feel like you can get open every time, especially when you’re 6-5. So that’s always great.”

Green finished 18-for-29 passing for 188 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for 35 yards on five carries, scoring on an 8-yard scramble on the Broncos’ second drive of the game.

“Overall, I thought TG made quicker decisions, much better decisions and when it wasn’t there, he used his legs, so I was excited about that,” Avalos said.

Boise State is back on the road next week to start Mountain West play. The Broncos face San Diego State at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time Friday at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego. The game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

The Aztecs are 2-2 on the season after a 26-9 loss Saturday at Oregon State. The other loss was to a Pac-12 school as well, 35-10 to UCLA. One of the victories was a hard-fought 36-28 win over Idaho State in San Diego.