“We just knew what was coming..” — Cougar defense shines in season opener

BYU football pulled out a gritty, hard-fought win against the Sam Houston Saturday night, and unlike more recent Cougar squads, they were carried by their defense. 

When Jay Hill left his head coaching position at Weber State this past December to become Kalani Sitake’s defensive coordinator, most BYU fans were hoping to see drastic changes on the defensive side of the ball.

BYU pitched a shutout for the first time since 2014, holding Sam Houston State to just 184 yards. The Cougars forced five different three-and-outs, held the Kats to 2-14 on third down and forced three turnovers. Hill’s unit wasn’t just good, it flat out dominated Sam Houston in every facet. 

“As an offense we have a lot of confidence in the defense,” quarterback Kedon Slovis said.

Sam Houston entered BYU territory just twice, resulting in a punt and Jakob Robinson end zone interception. Robinson, the star of Saturday night, recorded two interceptions, five tackles and blanketed every defender he matched up with.

“For some reason this group wanted to test him, and he had two amazing interceptions,” Sitake said of Robinson. “I loved the way he tackled.”

The other BYU corners showed up, too. New transfer addition Eddie Heckard had an interception, two tackles and a pass breakup in his first game as a Cougar. Kamden Garrett, also playing in his first game at BYU, had four tackles and a tackle for loss.

Perhaps the biggest improvement from 2022 was BYU’s defensive front, as the Kats recorded just 38 rushing yards on 24 attempts, continually stuffed by Cougar linebackers Ben Bywater and Max Tooley, who each tallied nine tackles apiece.

Thanks to Hill and the rest of the revamped defensive staff, BYU showed a tremendous improvement in its preparation, looking to act on the game rather than react to it.

“This was the most prepared we’ve ever been,” Robinson said. “We just knew what was coming. We were calling it out beforehand.”

In terms of scheme, Hill wasn’t afraid to send blitzes on third down, trusting his stellar defensive backs with man coverage on high-stakes downs.

Saturday’s victory was a small taste of this defense’s potential in 2023, and Cougar nation can expect to see more dominant performances from Hill’s unit.

“We’re in a great spot moving forward defensively,” Bywater said. “We gained a lot of trust in (Hill) tonight.”

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