When BYU fans start talking about the Cougar defense after a pair of blowout losses, one of the most common comments has been that BYU isn’t blitzing enough.
While that is one part of the problem, the greater issue has been that the Cougars have allowed opponents to get comfortable running their offense.
“That’s something we are definitely trying to work on,” BYU senior defensive end Corbin Kaufusi said. “Disruption-wise, whether you blitz or not, when you have those moments you have to make something happen. Coach (Ilaisa) Tuiaki said that against Utah State there were six times where we could’ve gotten to the quarterback, but a lot of times we were overthinking things and were preparing for run. Someone has to be a spark in some sort of way. You never know who that is going to be so you have to be ready the entire game for that.”
Kaufusi said he feels the Cougars learned from the 45-20 loss to the Aggies that they have to do more to throw an opponent off of their rhythm.
“When you play it safe too much, you allow openings to open up,” he said. “Even though you are on defense, you can’t play defensively. You have to play with a fighting mentality and bring the hit.”
He talked about the success that Utah State had with their run game in the second half when the quarterback would sometimes take nearly a second to decide whether to hand the ball off to a running back while the Aggie blockers got into position.
“The quarterback did a great job of reading it and so did the running back,” Kaufusi said. “We definitely want to take pride in our run defense but when the play draws on like that, you can hold a spot for so long but then maybe another hole opens up. A lot of times we are filling the right gaps but as the play draws on another gap opens up. They were holding it long enough that they could find any hole that opens up.”
He believes the solution to that issue is in being so strong with the fundamentals that you can get to the right place and stop the play from working.
“A big thing for us is being more technically sound because schematically we have guys filling every gap,” Kaufusi said. “We have to make sure we can make that late read if we need to or if the play changes we can adapt to that.”
This BYU defense knows that what it has done recently isn’t winning football, nor is it what the Cougars are capable of. The players say they are determined to do more.
“We definitely know it’s the pass rush, that we need to get to the QB,” sophomore defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga said. “We’re there. We just need to continue to work and not give up on the plays. With the run, we need to be stout. There have been a lot of times we have shoot the gap, look in the hole and the runner is on the other side.”
He agreed with Kaufusi that the basics are key but he also wants guys to believe in themselves.
“We just need to play the fundamentals,” Tonga said. “We need to stay confident and not let the past two games weigh us down.”
The bottom line for defensive players is that they have to know they can make a play no matter what formation or scheme the coaches send in.
“When the coaches call a call, we get excited because we feel like on any call against an offense we should do well,” BYU senior linebacker Butch Pau’u said. “The bad thing about the past couple of weeks is that we haven’t been doing our assignments. When we do, we shine as a defense, so we have to get back to our fundamentals.”
And for those who want more BYU blitzes, don’t be surprised if the Cougars put more pressure on the backfield when Hawai’i comes to Provo on Saturday night (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN2).
“It makes a lot of difference,” Tonga said. “This week we have a lot of blitzes that we have been implementing. We’re excited for Saturday to see how it turns out. We have to trust our speed and strength, though, so we don’t have to blitz every down.”
Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.