Impressive BYU defense sets standard for season

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Thursday’s game between the BYU Cougars and the Washington State Cougars was supposed to be a showing of offensive fireworks. BYU’s potent, up-tempo offense led by senior quarterback Riley Nelson was only supposed to be the foretaste of what would come from both teams.

Washington State welcomed in the pass-happy head coach and BYU alumnus Mike Leach, who was feared in his ten years at Texas Tech for his ultra-effective spread offense and elite quarterbacks.

But Washington State’s offense went in reverse. Literally.

The crimson Cougars from the north finished the game with minus five yards rushing, thanks mainly to the swarming, smothering defense of BYU’s linebackers and defensive front. Junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy had two sacks on Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel for minus 13 yards. In college football, a sack is tallied as a run for a loss.

“The defensive players did a really nice job of executing their assignments,” BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I still don’t believe you can play great defense if you have to defend both the run and the pass, so we were going to make sure we took that away first, and defend the screens really well, and then whatever else was left we would deal with it. And that’s pretty much the way it worked.”

Holding any team to negative yards rushing is impressive enough. Holding a Leach-coached team without a touchdown in addition to negative yards rushing adds even more prestige to the BYU Cougar defense. The last time Leach was held without a touchdown was Sept. 16, 2006, when he was coach of Texas Tech. They lost to TCU 12-3 in the game. Before that game, the only other outing in which Leach was held without a touchdown was Oct. 14, 2000 against Nebraska, in which Texas Tech lost 56-3.

However, in both of those games, Texas Tech still finished with positive yards rushing—38 against TCU and 19 against Nebraska. Additionally, in the game on Thursday, BYU allowed a total of just 224 yards, which was less than TCU allowed in 2006, and just 24 more yards than Nebraska allowed in 2000.

 “I was very impressed with our team,” Mendenhall said. “There’s things we can do to clean up, but I liked our mindset in how we started the game and how we finished the game.”
The defensive players have been saying they need to play with more intensity ever since the fall camp began.
“You got to hit people in the mouth,” Van Noy said in BYU’s media day in June. “You’ve got to go about every game with a prepared defense. Preparation has to be stronger and faster and better than anyone else in the country. That’s how we approach it.”
That preparation was evident in the opener against Washington State. Now, the precedent has been set for the players, the coaches and the fans. In addition, the opponents now know what to expect from the Cougar defense.

“It’s just anytime we have really experienced players, good players, you certainly hope to put them in situations that they can make critical plays at the right time to help your team,” Mendenhall said. “We have a lot of those type of players on this team, on offense and defense. It was fun to watch this team. Hunger’s a good word for it.”

BYU takes on the Weber State Wildcats on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 1:00 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and the defense should be prepared.

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