A top-ten defense and a senior quarterback can’t keep BYU’s football team from a 2-2 record to start the 2012 season.
For a school that is traditionally known for its offense, BYU’s defense has taken center stage and become one of the top defenses in the nation. After four games, the Cougar defense is ranked No. 7 in the nation in total defense, allowing only 246 yards and 12.5 points per game. Since Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defensive responsibilities in 2010, BYU’s run defense has been especially good, allowing an average of 91.5 yards rushing per game. The only team defending the run better during that time span is the defending National Champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Kyle Van Noy has been one of the most dominant linebackers in the nation through four games. Van Noy has 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. Van Noy has also been named linebacker of the week once already. Ezekial Ansah and Brandon Ogletree have also been stand-out performers for the defense, with big plays and solid performance from the two of them.
After defeating Washington State and Weber State at home, BYU’s offense struggled mightily on the road. In both games, the offense failed to move the ball with any consistency through three quarters before finding life in the fourth quarter. Turnovers and penalties have been the main culprit in the demise of BYU’s offense. BYU’s offensive line has struggled to find a rhythm and has had trouble protecting the quarterback. Numerous penalties have stopped many of BYU’s drives before they even had a chance to get going or forced BYU into an unfavorable field position.
Another contributing factor to the recent struggles by the offense may be senior quarterback Riley Nelson’s back injury. Against Weber State, Nelson took a couple of hard hits to the back and has not been as effective since. Nelson’s back injury has opened the door for Cougar fans to get a glimpse at freshman quarterback Taysom Hill. Following the loss to Utah, offensive coordinator Brandon Doman promoted Hill to second string quarterback because his style of play mirrors that of Nelson. After four turnovers by Nelson against Boise State, Hill replaced Nelson in the third quarter and led BYU on its only scoring drive of the game.
Even with BYU’s offense struggling to put points on the board, the Cougars should be encouraged by the resiliency of the team. In both losses, the team came back in the fourth quarter to make the game interesting. BYU’s defense has been unrelenting and is keeping BYU in every game. Had it not been for a missed field goal against Utah and a failed two-point conversion against Boise State, BYU could be 4-0.
BYU’s schedule doesn’t get any easier in the coming weeks. After this week’s game against Hawaii, BYU will play a string of games against an in-state rival and two top 25 teams. The string of games begins with Utah State and Oregon State coming to Provo to face the Cougars. The Aggies beat the University of Utah in Logan earlier this year and were a missed field goal away from beating Wisconsin on the road. No. 18 Oregon State got into the top 25 this week after beating No.13 Wisconsin and No. 19 UCLA.
The Cougars then head on the road to play No. 10 Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Notre Dame is 4-0 and coming off wins against Michigan and Michigan State. Georgia Tech has a 2-2 record after losing twice in overtime. However, the team has a potent offense that is averaging 42 points a game. Both teams will provide great tests for BYU’s defense.
BYU looks to get back to its winning ways this Friday against Hawaii at 6 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Warriors are coached by former BYU offensive coordinator Norm Chow.