Boise State has had two defensive linemen make first-team All-Mountain West Conference in each of the past three seasons starting with Tyrone Crawford and Shea McClellin in 2011, then Mike Atkinson and Demarcus Lawrence in 2012, then Lawrence and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe in 2013.
None are back this year. But the Broncos' defensive front, which goes eight deep, still will present a ton of challenges on Friday for Fresno State not only with its muscle but with its movement before the snap, which has been a point of emphasis and a work in progress since the Bulldogs got into game prep.
"They've got some good players. I mean, they seem to find guys every year to be perfect for their positons," said senior guard Cody Wichmann, who will be making his 44th career start, 36th in a row and fourth against the Broncos. "They're active. They're always active. They're always going to play hard. They're always going to run to the ball. Their movement is one of their better aspects so catching them when they're moving is going to be big this week."
Not many have had success against it this season. The Broncos rank second in the conference in rushing defense at 109.5 yards per game and have been particularly tough in the red zone. With an opponent inside the 20-yard line, Boise State has yielded only 56 yards on 29 plays, 1.9 per play.
The Broncos also are second in the Mountain West in tackles for loss with 49.0 and sacks with 17.0. Defensive linemen have accounted for 20.5 of the stops behind the line of scrimmage with defensive end Beau Martin leading the team with 9.0, and nine of the sacks including 3.5 from Martin.
"They don't have the Lawrence guy this year, but they still play very hard," Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter said. "They're high-motor guys that get pressure on people. They're rolling eight guys in there and when you're able to do that you can keep guys fresh and you keep that motor going the right way.
"They do a nice job, particularly against the run. Then they get into their third-down stuff and they're a little bit more radar defense like San Diego State does at times so they can create some problems for you if you don't have your protections down."
The Bulldogs handled the looks they got from San Diego State well enough, which could help. But dealing with the move calls are shifting could prove a challenge.
"They try to key in their defensive line shift with our clap or our cadence, basically, and it's tough at first. It's really tough," Wichmann said. "On Monday, we had guys jumping offside all over the place. But when it comes to games like these and they're making move calls and stuff like that you really fine-tune your hearing into our center, into our quarterback. It's practice, over and over. You keep practicing it, you fine-tune your hearing and it sorts itself out.
"No one jumped offsides (Tuesday) because of a move call, and our scout d-line is doing a great job. They're making a loud move call and they're all shifting at the same time right on our clap. They're doing a great job, giving us a great look."
Washington on depth chart at only one spot
The Bulldogs depth chart for the game at Boise State has Charles Washington at strong safety.
And, only strong safety.
"It feels good just to be able to focus on nickel back and safety, but week in and week out wherever they need me whether it's a game time decision or a practice decision, if they need me at corner I'll play corner," Washington said. "But I am excited that I haven't had to focus on any cornerback stuff. Jamal (Ellis) stepped up and Curtis (Riley) has been playing well there, so thanks to those guys I can kind of lock in at strong safety and nickel back."
Around practice ...
• Ellis, who had to come out of the overtime loss at UNLV due to a concussion, was back in practice on Tuesday and expected to play against the Broncos.
• Freshman defensive lineman Tyler Puccio, who had been working on the scout team, injured a knee and had to undergo season-ending surgery.
• Wichmann said he is expecting another physical skirmish against the Broncos. "When it comes down to it, the person who plays harder is going to succeed," he said. "We're going to have to out-physical these guys. We're coming out screaming. It's going to be a very physical game."
• Fresno State had five sacks in the overtime loss at UNLV, a season high, and has 13 sacks over its past four games. Boise State has allowed 13 sacks this season, ranking only eighth in the Mountain West.