Game day is just around the corner. BYU's revamped defense led by new defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki will face the high tempo, fast paced offense of Rich Rodriguez and the game couldn't have come soon enough for sophomore linebacker Butch Pau'u.
"Well, I can't believe it's here," said an excited Pau'u. "Francis [Bernard] and I were talking last Saturday how everyone on the field is just so anxious and excited to play Arizona. Everything has come so fast since our last game against Utah. We all feel like we're a lot closer as a team. I definitely feel like we're ready for Arizona. We're ready to go."
Pau'u's play early on in fall camp caused the coaches to shake up the makeup of the first team unit. Mike linebacker Harvey Langi, who started last season, was a heavy favorite to reprise his role as a starter at that position. He was moved to defensive end in order to field the defensive roster's 11 best players, which Pau'u was among. The absence of Sione Takitaki also made the move of Langi plausible, setting the stage for Pau'u's first D1 college football start against Arizona.
"He's a real savvy football player," Coach Tuiaki said. "You like backers to be long levered, and those are guys that don't miss many tackles. Butch has a natural for making open field tackles. He's a very, very physical player and he's smart, so we felt like he's a guy that we had to get on the field. In order to do that we move him or Harvey [Langi] and Harvey fits better at D-end because he's taller and he's very explosive on the edge."
SCOUTING THE WILDCAT OFFENSE
The Arizona Wildcats will try and do on offense what Robert Anae established at BYU during his second tenure as BYU's offensive coordinator. BYU has a lot of film to work with and players currently on the defense who remember what it was like to face an up tempo offense. Pau'u feels this aspect of their offense will provide the toughest challenge.
"I think that the toughest part will be their tempo," Pau'u said. "Arizona is a very fast-paced offense. The coaches were comparing their offense to our offense that we had last year."
Over the summer, the Cougars underwent a strenuous strength and conditioning regimen under the guidance of BYU's new strength and conditioning coach Nu'u Tafisi. However, Pau'u is confident the Cougars have been conditioned well to compete hard going into the fourth quarter.
Right now we've been conditioning and so we feel like we're in good shape enough to keep up with the tempo," he said.
There appears to be an aspect of BYU's defensive game plan that focuses on slowing down the fast pace Wildcat offense. Coach Tuiaki has game planned some concepts they hope will aid them in slowing down the game. The trick is to slow down the offense's timing and BYU feels they have the horses to do just that.
"Come game day there are going to be some differences where we're going to make some changes defensively and try and change up their tempo," Pau'u said. "That way we can throw their quarterback's timing off. That way we can make more plays and come out on top."
WILDCAT RUNNING BACKS
The Wildcat offense is a spread offense ran out of a pistol formation in primarily a 10 personnel grouping. That means one running back in the backfield with four wide receivers.
"They run more of a ten personnel," said Pau'u. "They run a pistol offense, so the running back in either on the right side or left side of the quarterback."
The running backs in the two deep are 5-10, 208-pound junior Nick Wilson (#28) from Fresno, California. In 2016, Wilson averaged 5.5 yards per carry while scoring eight touchdowns on the ground. He only caught four passes for 52 total yards on the season.
The second string running back is 5-8, 206-pound sophomore Orlando Bradford. Last season Bradford ran for 208 yards on 47 carries, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He scored three touchdowns on the season.
"For the running backs, what we know we have to do is, one, hit them," said Pau'u. "That will probably be the biggest thing. If we can hit them and continue to do that throughout the game they're going to slow down. They're going to know that the next time they hit the whole knowing that our defensive guys are just monsters. I think that will be the biggest thing is hitting them hard so they slow down, because they're super explosive and super shifty."
However, the Wildcats will also run an 11 personnel grouping which is one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers along with a 20 personnel grouping of two running backs and three receivers. Coach Tuiaki explains.
"They're run a 10, 11, and they'll show 20 against different people doing different things, "Coach Tuiaki said. "A majority of defenses you see on film will go an odd front just because it allows you to take one guy out of the box and put somebody up in coverage. UW last year did a little odd front and a little four man and they held them to three points."
With the primary 10 personnel group of one running back and four wide receivers, the offense is primed for a spread formation with the quarterback in a shotgun setting.
"It's a spread offense and they like to do a lot of zone reading and then do a lot of play action out of the zone read offense," Pau'u said. "I think the biggest thing will be to slow down their quarterback, because if you can throw off his timing then their whole offense is not going to be able to function."
BYU is preparing to face two quarterbacks but more than likely see more of 6-2, 206-pound junior Anu Solomon (#12). Solomon attempted 330 passes last season racking up 2,667 yards while scoring 20 touchdowns. Solomon only threw five interceptions for the 2015 season.
The other is 6-3, 210-pound sophomore Brandon Dawkins (#13). Last season Dawkins attempted 38 passes for 338 total yards scoring two touchdowns while throwing two interceptions.
"You know, both quarterbacks are very similar," said Pau'u. "They're both really fast and really agile, and then both can get the ball to wherever they want to. For us the biggest thing is to contain the quarterbacks in the pocket so they don't get out into space. When they're in space, those guys can move."
Coach Tuiaki is preparing his defense to face both quarterbacks. Dawkins is faster than Solomon, although Solomon is a slippery runner when pressed out of the pocket.
"Yeah, either one and they're both good quarterbacks," said Coach Tuiaki. "I think they're both good quarterbacks either or. I think one is faster than the other and they're both slippery and they both give you problems with running the ball. We have defended Anu Solomon the last three years. He's not as fast [as Dawkins] but he's slippery. He knows how to get out of the pocket and make guys miss."
Chances are BYU will see more of Solomon due to his experience, ability to pass the ball more efficiently, and capability to extend plays with his legs. It will be the responsibility of the Cougar's front seven to keep him in check. Pau'u will have a lot on his plate but he has the confidence of experienced teammates surrounding him.
"I think what's fun is for me, as someone who is starting my first year, is to have someone like Fred Warner and Kai Nacua behind me, and then to have guys like Logan Taele and Tomasi Laulile in front of me that just trust in me and guys like Francis Bernard who are playing for the first time in the middle linebacker's spot," said Pau'u. "It's comforting to know that those guys do believe that we can do our job. I think that's the best part."