Linebackers to face tough Badger ground game

The Cougar defense will face a tough Wisconsin Badger ground game this Saturday on the road in Madison. The contest will feature the strong running game of Wisconsin against a tough Cougar linebacker group, but BYU will have to take on the task while being one linebacker down.

BYU's defense has generally been very stout up front against the run. Wisconsin's offensive line averages about 320 pounds per player, while the Badger offense has averaged almost 300 rushing yards per game. So, the question is, will BYU's defensive front be stout enough against the Badger rushing attack?

"We'll find out," said Coach Mendenhall. "I think they're rushing it for almost 300 a game regardless of who they play, whether it's Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State. There's some variance here and there, but that's just who they are. The number one thing I worry about is how many points they score. If we can manage that well, we'll have a chance to win."

"They're known for their rushing obviously, averaging – well, before the last game – 6.9 yards per carry and 300 yards per game on the ground," said middle linebacker Tyler Beck. "That's something that we always have on our mind is stop the run, stop the run. I think they're playing into our strengths and we'll see how the game goes."

The Cougar linebackers are the strength of BYU's 3-4 defense, but that strength has gotten a little thin after the Boise State game. Senior middle linebacker Austen Jorgensen's playing career is over due to injury issues.

"I found out right before the game against Boise," recalled Beck. "He just kind of told me that the doctors said this was going to be his last game. It was hard and it was tough but, you know, I'll miss him a lot. I already do. But we'll keep going.

"We were all hurting and we love Austen and he's a great player too and was tearing it up this year. We were all so excited, especially since me, Uani [Unga] and Austen all being seniors. I was actually really sad when I found out he was out because I wanted to finish with him. He's one of the only guys left on the team [that was here] when I came in, so it was a big bummer to have him go out, but we'll keep going."

Sophomore Manoa Pikula feels the same way about the loss of Jorgensen.

"I mean, it hurts to see Austen go down because all of us are kind of close," said Pikula. We're really close actually. I feel like any of us can step in and take that role. It's not like a big downfall if one of us comes in. Coach has told us from day one that he trusts all of us, and he won't hesitate to put any of us in if one of us goes down. So, that's good."

With Jorgensen having played his last game, the middle of BYU's defense is getting a little thin. The attrition has come at a bad time, with the ground-and-pound rushing offense of Wisconsin up next.

"We're pretty thin right now with three inside linebackers that got a lot of playing time, and then Teu Kautai also," said Beck. "You know, he's going to step up and he's a good player as well, so we can definitely count on him if we have to."

So what will the middle of BYU's defense look like come game day?

"I think we'll try and give each other as much rest as possible," Beck said. "I'll be the flipper playing a little of both Mike and Buck, because Uani [at Mike] and Manoa [at Buck] just kind of play their side, so we'll all get a significant amount of playing time."

"Yeah, I'm strictly Buck and we've got Tyler going both ways – Mike and Buck," said Pikula. "Then Uani is just strictly Mike, so we've got kind of a rotation with just us three."

Pikula was moved out to the Will linebacker position, but has since moved back inside to help shore up the middle. The move is a welcomed one for the physical sophomore linebacker.

"I feel pretty comfortable at Buck, so everything is kind of coming back to us," said Pikula. "I kind of happy I'm getting more playing time at Buck. I feel more assignment-sound and I feel a lot more comfortable there.

"I feel like my strong point is playing against the run. Against Wisconsin I feel like this will be the perfect week to play because, yeah, I like playing against the run. It's kind of like Georgia Tech or San Diego State from last year, so we're just watching film and getting a feel for that."

The fourth linebacker to be in the mix if needed will be 6-foot-1-inch, 220-pound sophomore Teu Kautai. Having depth against a physical team like Wisconsin will be key to keeping the defense fresh.

"Teu has been in the middle but he hasn't really been seeing the field because of the depth, but he's another guy that's going to have to step up," Pikula said. "I feel like he'll be fine if he gets his chance."

"It's good to have depth, and also that we are all playing a lot," said Beck. "I felt like last year with Uona Kaveinga and Brandon Ogletree, they played a majority of the reps, so if something were to happen it would have been a little hard for someone to step in. With all of us having so much experience this year, you know, we don't lose anything. We all play well when we go in."

The group is confident they'll be able to play well when their name is called to take on Wisconsin's powerful rushing game.

"Yeah, just be in between the box, be able to play the run, be able to take on those blockers, make the plays inside," said Beck. "That's kind of what middle linebackers do.

"I'm so excited for this week. I'm so excited because you know what you're going to do and they know what they're going to do. You just get to put your effort and ability against their effort and ability and execution, and whoever comes out on top executed better and played harder. It's a pretty even matchup."

"I mean, we've got a really good game plan and we're just going to stop the run and try and make sure all of us are assignment-sound," said Pikula. "From practice everything looks good."

So while the middle of BYU's defense might be a little thin with the loss of Jorgensen, the Cougar linebackers are focused on the task at hand. While the loss of Jorgensen does hurt, the group feels prepared and confident.

"We haven't really thought of it," Pikula said. "It hasn't really been on our minds. I mean, if your chance comes up you have to step up to the plate. I feel like all of us are ready for whoever of us gets the start on Saturday. We're going to play Wisconsin, so I feel like we're prepared."

Total Blue Sports Top Stories