Through the first two games of the season, BYU fans saw a Cougar football team’s defense that was as ruthless as advertised. BYU’s crushing 54-10 defeat to rival Utah, however, painted a different picture, leaving players motivated to return to their dominating ways.
“There [is] a lot of determination, a lot of resolve and a lot of diligence to help the program reach its potential at a faster rate than it currently is,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said at his weekly press conference on Monday.
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Despite holding opponents to low score totals in the first two weeks — the Cougars gave up just 30 total points to Ole Miss and Texas in splitting those contests — BYU has successively allowed more yards and points each game thus far and struggled all season to rush the quarterback. The team has failed to record a sack in its first three games — one of only four teams nationally who hasn’t recorded a sack — and were made to pay in a big way Saturday night as the Ute quarterback, Jordan Wynn, broke out for 239 passing yards and two touchdowns. Much of his success resulted from having ample time to throw.
Junior linebacker Brandon Ogletree insisted the defense was more motivated than ever after not playing up to expectations against its in-state rival.
“When you get humiliated like we did you can respond or lay down, so we’re working as hard as we can to just respond,” Ogletree said.
He also said the quarterback pressure has been a point of emphasis this week.
“We were talking [about it] on Monday in the film room. We have to put pressure on the quarterback and take some stress off the [defensive backs]. I think [we’ll] rise to the challenge,” Ogletree said. “When your number’s called you have to go. We expect to win one on one battles with tight ends and running backs that are picking up blitzes. We have to win those battles or the quarterbacks will have way too much time to pick our secondary apart.”
Junior nose tackle Romney Fuga said the defensive strategy is where it needs to be, but the players need to perform it better.
“I really believe in the scheme, it’s a good scheme that we run,” Fuga said. “Our defensive line just has to find a way to get the quarterback. … [The defensive line] is trying to create a stronger mindset of tackling the quarterback more than making sure we’re in the right lanes.”
It didn’t help the defense Saturday that senior linebacker Jordan Pendleton, one of the biggest game-changers for BYU, was out for the second half with a bum ankle. Coaches said they are hopeful but couldn’t confirm he will be 100 percent for the Central Florida game on Friday.
The defense also wasn’t given much support Saturday by its counterparts on offense, as the Cougars gave up two defensive touchdowns from fumbles and forced the defense to play with a short field several times.
However, there has been no visible sign of finger pointing. Each player has been focused on improving at their own position.
“The defense starts with the nose tackles,” Fuga said. “If I do my job well, then our defense as a whole is already off to a great start. That’s my mindset.”