"Moving to J.P.'s spot is big shoes and pads to fill," said Van Noy. "He's a great player and a great leader. Learning from him has been good for me and I'm going to try and do as best as he does. I'm going to try my hardest just because he's such a good player [that] it's hard to fill his shoes. I'm glad I have this opportunity to get on the field more."
Coach Popping said that one of the reasons why Van Noy was switched to Sam was because of his ability to play in space. Van Noy agreed with his coach's evaluation.
"What I think I bring just as well as Jordan Pendleton does is speed and covering the fast guys, covering the tight ends out in space," Van Noy said. "I think I do that pretty well, and also playing in space, that's my number one thing. I don't want to get juked. I would rather get ran over than get juked, so I take that to heart when I play in space. I just want to make a play and have the chance to make an interception. If I know I can make the interception, I'm going for the hit and make a play for the ball."
Though transitioning from one linebacker position to another midseason is a challenge, Van Noy said he had a head start on the whole process.
"What's been easy about my switch from Will to Sam is [Coach Howell] made us all learn each of the linebacker positions," said Van Noy. "Now playing it in a game will be a little tougher, but at least I know the Sam concepts. I just now need the reps to get used to it and get a feel for the position, but I know the plays and what's expected of me."
Safety Andrew Rich leads the team in tackles, a result that isn't what the BYU defense is designed for.
"The thing is … [Bryan] Kehl and [David] Nixon did their responsibilities so well that it freed up the two inside guys, the Mike and the Buck, and that's how the defense is designed," said Van Noy. "When you have the two middle backers with the most tackles instead of your safeties, it shows that the three down linemen up front and the two outside linebackers are doing their jobs.
"Many people thought the switch would be harder, but Coach Howell did a great job and Kelly [Poppinga] is doing a great job of getting us reps and getting us mentally prepared and physically prepared in both linebacker spots to take on wide receivers, shedding blocks in the open field. It's been different but it's been a lot of fun. The more of that, the better."
As Mendenhall has taken over the defense, there has been an added emphasis on physicality.
"I think it's the physical aspect of the linebackers that [Mendenhall] harps on every single one of us about the most," Van Noy said. "If you always play hard and physical but mess up, you're still doing something right. What we're all trying to get back, because it was slipping away there for a while, is that Mendenhall toughness that is expected. This past week has been a great week for us in that aspect. Now we're just getting down the execution part of things, but we're bringing that tough, hard-hitting culture back to this defense. We need to be the examples of what a BYU defense is all about for future generations to know what it takes to play here. I know if I can go out there and rip guys' heads off, and the guy next to me does that, we can show the country that it's going to be a pretty scary thing for other teams to see in the future."
The shift in the linebacker mentality has had a positive effect on their collective souls. A renewed and energetic corps now looks forward to putting their pent-up aggression to use in ways BYU fans have been begging for over the past few years.
"It's going to be fun because we're doing different things now with Coach Mendenhall as our defensive coordinator," said Van Noy. "We're doing more things with the linebackers like blitzes, so I don't think offenses are going to know what hit them after we throw a bunch of different things at them. It's pretty exciting because Coach Mendenhall put a pretty exciting new system in place so fast. It's exciting."
Two key offensive players the Cougar defense will have to face during the game against San Diego State are senior receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson.
"They have big, fast receivers and they're physical," Van Noy said. "[Brown] is big, fast and quick and I can see him going into the pros. He's that good and he's very underrated. If you watch him in past games, he'll split defenders and go all the way. They like to move him around a lot. He'll also play the tight end position in some formations. We have a lot of keys on him."
Although a freshman, Aztec running back Ronnie Hillman has rushed for three consecutive 100-yard games this season. Hillman will be another weapon the Cougar defense will look to neutralize on Saturday.
"He's got a lot of talent and is fast," Van Noy said about Hillman. "He can get upfield really fast."
Meanwhile, Aztec quarterback Ryan Lindley has surpassed 300 passing yards in three games so far this season.
"Their quarterback has been there a while and he's pretty good," Van Noy said. "He's got a strong arm and can throw the ball around. You know, we want to make a statement and a lot of people have doubt. We still believe in big things and now it's going to be hard, but we're doing things differently now and still want to get to that bowl game. It's going to be hard but we're willing to work for it."