When Bronco Mendenhall first arrived at BYU he ran a 3-3-5 defense that provided some unique challenges for opposing offenses in the passing game. Having switched to a more flexible and traditional 3-4 defense, the BYU defense continues to show wrinkles in their scheme that can be adapted for opponents
Mendenhall and his staff have found more flexible yet complex ways to adapt their 3-4 defense, which has proven to cause some disarray for opponents. At the same time that defensive complexity can create its own uncertainty.
“Our defense can be so awesome because there are so many different things that we can do with it,” BYU cornerback Micah Hannemann said. “It’s really flexible and can create so many problems from so many different parts of the field. Sometimes that’s a good thing but at other times it can be a bad thing as well.”
Case in point recently was when BYU played against UCLA. The defensive formations and player packages caused confusion for the Bruin’s freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. The Bruins ran more of a straight forward offense. However, the Michigan Wolverines ran an offense similar to Boise State, which used multiple player shifts. BYU went back to a more simplified defense and that’s when the Cougars shut down Michigan’s offense in the second half.
“Our defense has really progressed as the season has gone on,” Hannemann said. “It’s interesting how things work as things moves along. For example, even though we lost to Michigan our defense played better in that game than against UCLA where we lost to them by one point. The way we did it was by simplifying our defense down to our base package plays. Michigan was moving around a lot like Boise State and that kind of threw us off, so we just went to our base defense and shut them out in the second half.
“Against UCLA we did some things differently that really confused their offense, so you can see how the defense has progressed and changed from game to game and as time goes on.”
The challenge for Coach Mendenhall and his defensive staff is to help the players understand how the complexities of the defense work despite offensive shifts or changes. Each player must mentally understand what his responsibility is within a given play and not lose that focus or else the formations can be compromised.
“The one thing that we have to do is make sure that we stay focused and intense,” Hannemann said. “I feel like we’ve given up big plays that we’ve mentally messed up on. There’s a difference from being able to play hard and tackle hard than being mentally focused. When you’re mentally focused you’re able to read what’s happening and force your will and make plays rather than just reacting to what’s happening.”
Hannemann explained further.
“Well, it can be to our disadvantage if we don’t prepare ourselves really well the week before,” said Hannemann. “If we don’t fully understand how things fit together, or what we want to do, against other team’s formations then it hurts. It’s a mental focus thing. If we don’t prepare well enough the previous week it can hurt us.”
Developing and polishing up a defense is always an ongoing battle for defensive coaches. Regardless of BYU’s tough loss to UCLA, and allowing Michigan to shut them out at home, Hannemann feels the BYU Cougars are still upbeat and confident they’ll continue to progress within their schemes. The Cougars beat UConn and with East Carolina looming over the horizon, the Cougar defense is still hungry to get after it.
“Our team is still hungry and that’s the perfect word for it,” Hannemann said. “We know we’ve lost some big games but we’re all together and we know that basically we’re all we’ve got. We know there’s going to be ups and downs but we want to go undefeated the rest of the season. We don’t want any more regrets going forward, so we’re doing all that we can right now to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We still have work to do but we’re getting better. We have some minor things we have to fix but we’ll get there. I think once we do our defense is going to be really, really good. I think it’s already really good but once we get those other things down it’s going to be even better.”
For Micah Hannemann, who just returned home from an LDS mission, he’s playing a bit of catch up from being away from the game for two years. Still, the sophomore has had a decent season so far. He recorded his first interception against Nebraska and recorded 10 tackles in BYU’s loss to Michigan. Playing cornerback is what he likes to do for one specific reason.
“I like playing cornerback because I like to be able to control as much of the game as I can,” Hannemann said. “I have a lot of confidence in my ability and playing cornerback well plays a big part in our defense. If you’re able to play cornerback really well on our defense then our defense can open up and do a lot of different things.
“It’s a huge thing for us because it opens up other things and we won’t give up a lot of points. I’m not saying I’m the best out there, but I want to be the best I can and help the team win. I know that if I can play cornerback really well and control one side of the field, then it helps our team win.”