Defense Goes from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll

If one game wasn't good enough to show how apparent it was for Coach Mendenhall to take over as defensive coordinator, then two should have sufficed. Like a madman tinkering in his cellar laboratory, Coach Mendenhall has animated the drab, implanted a new heart into the uninspired, and transformed an uncreative defense with a shock of life and a new identity.

It was painful to watch as Florida State carved up BYU's defense for 278 rushing yards. Even more painful was Nevada's unstitching of BYU's defense for another 239 rushing yards the following week. Since Coach Mendenhall had taken over following the loss to Utah State, the Cougars held San Diego State to just 53 rushing yards and TCU to 108 yards the following week.

"There have definitely been some adjustments," Andrew Rich said. "I think Coach Mendenhall has done some new things and has revamped some things on this defense. Coach Hill had a different style and both have worked in the past. Coach Hill has taught me a lot while he was here, but Coach Mendenhall has changed things around and given our defense a new look. It's been really good for our team."

"The first day that Coach Mendenhall took over as defensive coordinator, he asked us if we believed in him," Brandon Ogletree reflected. "We told him yes and then went to work. After trusting in him we've began to see the fruits of our labors. We're seeing us play with emotion and passion, a passion that wasn't there before. We're seeing us making stops and big plays, which was something that wasn't there before, and this carried over into the TCU game and it's been special. I don't really know what else to say."

TCU ran over Oregon State for 278 yards and rushed for 291 against Baylor, but the Horned Frogs' rushing performance against BYU was their lowest of the season so far.

"Yeah, I think Coach Mendenhall plays to the strengths of our team," said Rich. "I just think it's a different style and different scheme. Just out-playing our opponents more than anything is what Coach Mendenhall emphasizes. He's tweaked things here and there, but if you come out to practices you can see how hard the practices are. We've learned fast that you can't play the game like we have or you'll get ran out of town. He's done a great job of putting players in the right position to succeed. I've really enjoyed playing under him and try to represent those guys that have built this program in the past."

So what has Coach Mendenhall done to make such a difference? Well, everyone knows he expects effort and accountability. It was a mantra that once tired the ears of Cougar fans after hearing it week after week, but has now become music to their ears. Aside from the expected, what transformations have this defense gone through that have made a real difference?

"The first thing is Coach Mendenhall's presence, and I think we all trust in him," Ogletree said. "I think everyone on our defense believes in him, and when you believe in someone you go out and play with full conviction and without hesitation. It's a different mindset that his presence brings to the team.

"The second thing are his plans, and I think we all trust in what he plans to do and in those game plans every week, his game plan and how he uses individual players' strength within our defense. That's also has really helped us.

"The third thing are Coach Mendenhall's adjustments. Rather than letting offenses dictate the game to us where we have to counter that, we want to control the game and try and make offenses adjust to what we do."

To better facilitate the Cougar defense's ability to control and dictate the game, Coach Mendenhall has dissected its parts, analyzed them and placed them in different positions.

"For example in my case, I feel like what I do best is play against the run, play hard and play downhill," said Ogletree. "In the past few weeks we've had a number of incidences where the buck linebacker has been able to blitz. Before we weren't doing things like that. I feel like I feel like my strengths are being used more within the defense rather than the other way around.

"With our cornerbacks, it's kind of the same thing. You'll notice that our cornerbacks have been coming up and making tackles. That's because Coach Mendenhall expects them to be football players and not just coverage players, and so that's been a big difference. It's been huge for us in holding down the edges and making tackles on the edges.

"Another example is with Vic So'oto. He is an extremely athletic rush defensive end, but in the 3-4 defense the end can get covered up a little bit because he has the two gap and has to take up blocks. Now we've had a couple of times where we've done things differently to bring his strengths to the defense. A couple of times we've done some zone blitzes and have set him out wide and let him get a more clear path to the quarterback by using more of his athleticism in the defense.

"With Andrew Rich, especially against TCU, he's a very versatile guy, so we had him playing at Sam and outside backer. We moved Carter [Mees] to free safety to bring more speed to the field. I think Coach Mendenhall just has a really good idea of our personnel and who can do what and who can play where and he believes in us. He instills that confidence in us. A guy like Carter Mees getting all those reps against TCU, that wasn't happening before."

Rich has enjoyed being a part of the new creative tweaks Coach Mendenhall has installed within the Cougar defense. It not only has allowed Rich to bring more of his abilities to the defense, but also has allowed him to play a larger role as a defensive leader.

"Yeah, I've always liked playing safety, but it is nice to be freed up sometimes and not worry about a ball getting thrown over your head," Rich said with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. "Yeah, I've really enjoyed my new role and I don't know how long it's going to last. Obviously it will be from game to game, but I've really enjoyed all the new and creative things we've been doing on defense and how I've been a part of it. It's been fun."

Under Mendenhall's direction, Ogletree has seen his production as a player increase.

"He's a genius and he's crazy, but we love playing for him and will do anything for him," Ogletree said with a smile. "I've been here since 2008 and Coach Mendenhall wasn't the defensive coordinator. I heard he was a great coach but I didn't really get that. I wanted to play for him when I got here but the situation didn't allow for that. Now it does and I understand. It's something really hard to describe and you really can't put a finger on it. It's something special and we'll do anything for him."

With the defense's newfound belief in their defensive coordinator, playing with passion has become contagious.

"I think the biggest change, because most of our schemes are very similar to what we were doing under Coach Hill, is just the energy, passion, enthusiasm and excitement that Coach Mendenhall has brought," Ogletree said. "Before it wasn't there for whatever reason, and I'm not sure why, but I think Coach Mendenhall has players believing now. We all believe in each other and we all look after each other and take care of one another. We make sure that everyone is looking at film. We take it personally when someone is not in their spot, and we take it personally if the scout team gains a yard during practice. He just expects a lot from us and is raising the bar."

It's plain to see that Coach Mendenhall's philosophical formula has changed this Cougar defense from being passive to being more aggressive. No longer will the Cougars feel they are prey. Instead, they will change into the beast that was once suppressed within.

"We've been a lot more aggressive, especially against the run," Ogletree said. "Coach Mendenhall's philosophy is we're going to come after them every single play, and confuse the quarterbacks so they don't know what we're doing or lead them to believe we're doing one thing or the other so they can't get a bead on what our defense is really trying to do. I think that's been very helpful. What that does is it takes the guess work off of our shoulders and puts it on their shoulders. Whenever the defense has been let loose to be aggressive, that's what has happened. It's been a lot more fun."

"I've always been a believer that actors beat reactors," said Rich. "When you're trying to have people react to you rather than acting upon you, it makes a big difference. I think Coach Mendenhall tries to control the game in that sense instead of not taking the bend-but-don't-break approach. I think he wants to take the-don't-bend-but-break them instead approach: make them react to us and force them into uncomfortable situations. I think the mentality on the defensive side of the ball has been changed under him, definitely."


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