Howell Eager for BYU Defensive Improvement

Utah State and UCF both ran similar game plans against BYU’s defense and unfortunately BYU lost both of those games. The Cougars will host the Nevada Wolfpack this Saturday and Nick Howell believes Nevada might try and do things similar to what their past two opponents did.

Looking back over a tough UCF loss, Nick Howell isn’t dwelling on what could or should have been. Rather he’s taking a look at his defensive players, both individually and collectively, to try help with further overall improvement.

“I think the players look at it play by play,” said Howell. “If there was a positive play they feel good about it, and if there was a play that was negative they try to fix it. That’s just how the game goes. You can’t feel too bad about the bad and you can’t feel too good about the good. You just have to work on getting better each day.”

During the Utah State and UCF games, the Aggie and Knight offenses used a max protection package, with a tight end or two, to help protect the quarterback in the passing game. It’s a formula that Coach Howell expects to see this weekend against Nevada.

“Yeah, 100 percent,” Coach Howell quickly said. “They did it last year. “They’re an 11 personnel team (meaning there’s a single tight end) and then they went 12 personnel the full first half until we got a lead. When we got a lead they went 11 and we could rush them and we can win. That’s the formula. If they stay in 12 it’s not good because, one, it means we don’t have the lead, and, number two, it means they’re completing balls down the field.”

With the 12 personnel it makes it much harder for BYU’s front seven to rush the quarterback. That means with the max protection the offense is able to protect longer and hopefully have success throwing the ball against BYU’s secondary. The key is to get them to use a single tight end by forcing the offense to have to send more players down field in the passing game. If BYU can force Nevada into an 11 personnel offensive scheme then that means the Cougars are being successful in the pass defense game.

“If they’re in 12 personnel it’s not good for us,” said Howell. “If we can get them into 11 then we’re being successful on offense and on defense in stopping the ball. There’s going to be two tight ends and they’re going to block up. The running backs are going to stay and they’re going to chuck it up down field. They’re going to try to run in 12 personnel. That’s what they do although they are an 11 personnel team. That’s what they’re going to do.”

The primary receiving weapon within the Wolf Pack offense is Hasaan Henderson (#12) who comes in at around 6-5, 220-pounds from Las Vegas, Nevada. Henderson led the Wolf Pack against Boise State with 141 yards. He’s a big time threat on the fade routes.

“Number 12 is good,” Howell said. “12 is really good. He is great at the back shoulder fade and it’s like taking candy. I mean, that route is really hard to stop, so we’re working on it and working on it. If they catch one then we’re going to go to the next play. I don’t want to give up a fade, but the back shoulder fade it might. We’re not going to try and give up any touchdown passes, but number 12 is good down field.”

Throwing the ball to Henderson will be 6-2, 215-pound quarterback Cody Fajardo (#17) who is the first true dual-threat quarterback the Cougars will face this season. Fajardo threw for 297 yards last week against Colorado State. He threw for 306 yards the previous week against Boise State while running for 88 and 71 yards, respectively.

“Number 17 is going to look straight at [Henderson] and he’s going to throw it straight at him,” said Howell. “No matter who’s covering him, no matter if there’s a safety over the top, or a corner underneath it’s going to him. Then they’ll have designed plays. You know last year they had a flea flicker, a reverse pass, and they’re going to try and get us in an unconventional way to protect and get isolation on a corner and safeties down the field. So, that’s what we have to defend.”

Coach Howell can expect his secondary to be tested once again; a thinned out secondary that has struggled over the season to defend against the pass. For Coach Howell, the responsibility of helping his defense improve has been a work in progress.

“It’s going good just the challenge that happen every day you know?” said Howell. “Just getting your guys to do what they’re supposed to do, and getting your game plan right, and making sure that they’re focused and motived. But, it’s not just one person. It’s a whole group of coaches, but, yeah, it’s a daily battle to make sure we’re fighting, and scrapping, and doing what we’re supposed to do, and making sure we’re doing the right things and critiquing myself. It’s not looking at everyone else and saying, ‘Okay, whose guy is not doing this? Whose guy is not doing that?’ It’s like, ‘What can I do to help these guys play better?’ It’s what it is. You have to self-evaluate, and you have to evaluate the group and just battle every single day. It’s just the daily fight. You go to bed late, wake up in the morning swinging, then go to bed to get ready to go again.”

While Coach Howell might have the full reigns of the BYU defense, he still gets advice and input from Bronco Mendenhall from time to time.

“He has good ideas,” said Howell. “He has ideas. He has suggestions and will say, ‘Take a look at this and take a look at that. What do you think of this?’ or ‘I like this and maybe not like this. What do you think of so and so here?’ So, it’s just suggestions and very similar to kind of how it’s always been but he’s not in there all the time.”

Cougar Cam: Nick Howell

Coach Howell talks about the improved pass rush across the d-line, the play of Craig Bills, and the status of some of the injured players. Howell also talks about the state of the secondary and what Utah State and UCF did effectively against the secondary and much more.

Coach Howell Video

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