BYU Football Preview: Experienced defense looks to show discipline and toughness against Navy

The much-awaited week one is finally here after a long summer of uncertainty surrounding the college football season. BYU Football is set to play Navy in a nationally televised matchup at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland on Monday, Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. MDT on ESPN.

The Cougar defense returns seven starters this season, along with a handful of players who have plenty of game experience.

Headlining those returning are Khyiris Tonga and Bracken El-Bakri, who were both named to preseason award watchlists. Tonga is on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Outland Trophy lists, while El-Bakri is on the Wuerffel Trophy list.

Tonga is looking to make a big impact on the field this season after passing on the NFL Draft and coming back for his senior year.

“He feels like this is his time,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “We really need to see him establish dominance right away.”

BYU looks to build upon a 2019 defense that forced 13 fumbles and recovered seven and had 15 interceptions, 17 sacks and 61 tackles for loss. Returning defensive players made up 74.1 percent of BYU’s tackles last season, and 10 of those 15 interceptions were from a linebacking core that returns this season.

Much of the talk since games were scheduled against Navy and Army has regarded BYU’s ability to stop a run-heavy option offense, which both service academies employ. Sitake said that the keys to stopping an option offense are “discipline and toughness.”

“Eye discipline is going to be huge in minimizing mental errors and locking into our defensive assignment,” defensive back Troy Warner said, echoing Sitake’s sentiment.

While the defensive game plan will probably change after the Navy and Army games, fans will likely see versatility on the defensive end all season.

“Different schemes require being able to find a way to get all the best players on the field,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “That’s a good challenge to have when you’re talking about a lot of these different hybrid guys being on the field.”

BYU released its first depth chart of the season ahead of the Navy game, as seen in the above tweet, with several new nicknames for the “hybrid” defensive players Tuiaki refers to. Names such as “jack,” “mike” and “cinco” are used to differentiate the BYU linebackers, who will likely be spread across the field in different formations, depending on the offensive scheme they are facing.

Returning, experienced players like Tonga and Warner allow BYU to employ new and versatile tactics, without fear of losing the fundamentals needed on the defensive side of the ball.

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