“If they score, I get offended,” BYU junior linebacker Spencer Hadley said after the Cougars’ 6-3 win over Utah State on Friday night.
Although the statement may have been said in jest, the defense has looked like it has found the antidote to touchdowns. Hadley has had very little to be offended about over the last three weeks.
The BYU defense has held their opponents without an offensive touchdown for 13 consecutive quarters, stretching back over three straight games. Its defense is finally receiving the national attention the Cougars feel they deserve after putting up nation-leading numbers over the last month of the season.
“I think they’ve been good for quite a while,” Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “What’s fun is they want to go out and play. They welcome whatever circumstances they’re in. Probably more than I do.”
The last time a BYU opponent scored an offensive touchdown against BYU was with 57 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the loss against Utah in Salt Lake City on Sept. 15. That’s equal to 195 minutes and 3 seconds of game time of shutting down offenses. But the defensive players aren’t surprised by their dominating performance.
“As a defense, we knew we could be good,” Hadley said. “We knew we could limit teams to very little amounts of scoring. I believed in our defense from the beginning. To us, it’s like a lot of hard work paying off rather than a surprise at this point of the season.”
The defensive numbers speak for themselves. The Cougars are allowing 59.5 rushing yards per game, a number that leads the nation. This includes 41 yards in each of their last two games and the minus-5 yards to which Washington State was held on opening day.
Additionally, the Cougars have held their opponents to under 300 total yards for twelve consecutive games, dating back to Oct. 15, 2011, against Oregon State, when they gave up 365 yards. This season, the Cougars are holding their opponents to 229.3 total yards per game, good for third in the nation behind SEC powerhouses Alabama and LSU.
“At the beginning of the year, (Mendenhall) asked us if we wanted to be great,” senior cornerback Preston Hadley said. “We all raised our hands and said we wanted to be great and we’ll do whatever we need to do. It goes back down to how we practice. Coach pushes us really hard. It shows in the games how well our defense plays.”
The Cougars are led individually by senior linebacker and captain Brandon Ogletree, who has a team-leading 49 tackles for the season, along with junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who adds 24 tackles, 10.5 of which are for losses, 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Senior defensive end Ezekiel (Ziggy) Ansah has also terrorized the opponents with his tenacious play on defense, totaling two sacks in Friday’s game.
The impenetrable defense gives a measure of comfort to the offense every time it steps on the field, knowing the opposing offense won’t be able to put up points.
“As a quarterback, it’s phenomenal,” freshman quarterback Taysom Hill said. “Our defense has been playing really well all year. It takes pressure off you as an offense. It’s a good blessing to have a defense as good as ours.”
The Cougars will meet the No. 14 Oregon State Beavers at LaVell Edwards Stadium this coming Saturday in a rematch from last year, a game that the Cougars won 38-28 in Corvallis, Ore. However, the Beavers were able to put up four touchdowns against the Cougar defense, which matches the total number of touchdowns BYU has allowed this season. Oregon State comes into the game averaging well over 300 yards in just passing offense.
With the antidote for offensive touchdowns seemingly secured in BYU’s pocket, the defense is looking to shut down yet another opponent.