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Like BYU’s offense, the defense has undergone a significant change as well. Gone are the days of the 3-4, as the Cougars will be playing a four man front and will boast an aggressive defense.
The switch to the 4-3, on paper at least, means that BYU will be more dedicated to getting to the quarterback, stopping the run, and forcing turnovers.
The downside is that it leaves a weakness in the secondary due in large part to leaving losing a linebacker to roam the middle.
The big news surrounding the defense is that senior Travis Tuiloma is injured and will not be playing. He’s battled injury since last season, but still finished with 25 tackles and 2.5 sacks in just eight games.
Without him, BYU struggled significantly to stop the run, especially inside. Logan Taele will try to help from one of the end spots and Tomasi Laulile will help fill the void at defensive tackle. While they are likely capable, neither of them is close to being as good as Tuiloma.
Moses Kaumatule is listed as the starter at end. He played in seven games as a redshirt freshman and didn’t really make a statistical impact. He was able to put together a solid camp though and thus is starting on Saturday.
Harvey Langi was BYU’s second leading tackler last season as a linebacker and he now finds himself on the defensive line.
The idea is to get Langi on the edge and allow him to play at a more natural weight as opposed to somewhat containing his aggressiveness as a linebacker.
There are some questions at linebacker for BYU, but there’s also an above average player in Fred Warner
The 6-foot-4, 230 pound sophomore was third on the team with 67 tackles in 2015 while also picking up 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries, which tied for second nationally.
An interesting aspect of the move to the 4-3 is that Warner will be asked to be less aggressive in his pass-rushing and more of a coverage player and it somewhat remains to be seen what type of player he is in that role.
Sophomore Butch Pauu will man the middle for the Cougars. He played in eight games as a freshman and while he is a bit small, the coaching staff has spoken highly of him throughout camp.
The third linebacker spot goes to sophomore Francis Bernard, who was actually a running back last year and the team’s second leading rusher.
The transition has obviously been a good one, as he is expected to start and is considered to be one of the better athletes on the defensive side of the ball.
In BYU’s new defense, the corners are asked to do quite a bit in press coverage. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Michael Davis is the most experienced corner on the team.
He is fifth in school history in pass deflections, but has yet to come up with an interception. There’s a good chance he will be the guy to cover Trey Griffey and it should be one of the better matchups Saturday.
Freshman Troy Warner will start at the other corner spot. The one-time Oregon commit put together a really nice camp, but there is likely still something to say about experience.
Every receiver Arizona throws at Warner will have an experience edge and asking him to cover a guy like Samajie Grant is not an easy task.
Micah Hannemann switched from corner to safety and it will likely be a successful move. Simply put, Hannemann wasn’t a very good corner and struggled a ton in isolation coverage.
He is an aggressive safety with good ball skills and will likely be asked to do a lot in this secondary.
At free safety is senior Kai Nacua, who has played in 35 games and started 18 of them. He had shoulder surgery in the off-season and hasn’t done any hitting in camp, but BYU is going to be extra careful with a player many feel is the best on the defense.
Players to watch:
#11, CB Troy Warner: If Arizona is going to pick on a player, it is going to be Warner. It is very possible he is up for the challenge, but this is asking a lot of a freshman.
#48, N Tomasi Laulile: Replacing Tuiloma is not going to be easy at all. Laulike is the man that will be asked to try it first and if he succeeds, Arizona’s task gets much more difficult.
#21, ST Harvey Langi: This is his first game at linebacker and if he is as good as advertised, Arizona is going to need to be careful.
Keys to the Game:
1. Take chances: BYU definitely has some holes on the defensive side of the ball, so Arizona needs to take some chances exposing those weaknesses.
2. Establish the run: If Arizona is able to establish the run early, everything changes for both teams. It becomes BYU’s worst nightmare and Arizona can do whatever it wants offensively.
3. Don’t buy into the aggression: Both teams are going to be flying around and nervous. Arizona’s offense is experienced and the Wildcats need to make sure they don’t buy into the sloppiness of the early going.