The defensive line play of Manaia Brown, Hala Paongo, Vince Feula, John Denney and Shaun Nua backed up by physical linebackers Brady Poppinga, Cameron Jensen, Justin Luettgerodt and Markell Staffieri effectively negated a lot of opposing offensive ground attacks on a defense scheme designed to funnel everything towards the Cougarback position.
"We were just so physical that the plays were all done before I even got to the ball," Francisco noted. "But when we started with USC, I started getting in on more plays and started to see and feel good with how I was playing. I just hope I can keep it going for the rest of the season in conference," he said.
Despite loses to Stanford, USC, Boise State and UNLV, the Cougars' defensive unit feel they can play with any team in the country.
"To play against talent like that gives you confidence going into conference play. We played against the No. 1 team and also the No. 1 offense, so we've been out against the best. Personally, as a player, it gives me confidence and as a team it helps us," said Francisco.
After finishing the 2003 season with a pass coverage ranking of eighth in the country, BYU's defense has struggled this year against the passing game. This might partly be attributed to the defense playing one of the toughest out-of-conference schedules in the country.
"The hardest to cover, I think, has been Boise State," said Francisco. "They don't have the talent, but I think they play harder than USC. That's why they are so much harder to cover and that's why they have one of the top offenses, obviously. It's the way they play. USC may be the No. 1 team, but I don't think they play as hard as the Boise State players."
Francisco continued, "Boise State played with a lot of heart. If USC, with the talent they've got, played like Boise State plays on offense they would be unstoppable. That's why Boise State is good because they play that way without the talent."
As a four year starter and the youngest player to win defensive MVP in the history of BYU as a sophomore -- repeating the honor last year as a junior, confidence is the one area Francisco feels he has improved the most.
"Every year when you go into a season, you're just more comfortable and have more confidence in your abilities than the season before. I think confidence plays a big role in how you play. You can be a good player, but if you don't have confidence going into a game, you're not going to be good," said Francisco.
He said his goals this year are to stay healthy, hit hard and continue to play with MVP style. "(I have to) keep doing it; keep playing how I'm playing and just hope that things go well for me and our defense. Personal goals are to stay healthy and keep progressing, and hopefully get in on the big plays (hard hits) because that's what you want," Francisco said.
So far, Francisco has raked up 116 total tackles, three interceptions, three deflected passes, seven tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
NFL Draft Blitz, an NFL scouting site, has Francisco going into the NFL draft during the second or third round "Of course I think about it, but right now I just want to finish out my college career and finish out the games. I can look forward to that later after the season. But, oh yeah, I think about it. Eventually I'm going to have to think about it more," he said.
Sports agents are already contacting Francisco hoping to sign him. "I just have everyone go through my dad (James Francisco) so they don't bother me throughout the season. I just tell them to call my dad," Francisco chuckled.
Fox Sports college writer, Pete Fiutak, wrote that Francisco is "a several-year pro waiting to happen…has great athleticism, good speed, nice size, and he hits like a ton of bricks. A good tackler, he stays focused, works hard, practices hard, and does everything the coaching staff would love him to do. It doesn't matter how much he's banged up, he doesn't miss practice and always plays full-tilt."
Francisco confirmed he has been invited to participate in the Shrine Bowl Game being held at 3Com Park in San Francisco and also the Hula Bowl in Maui (Hawaii) the following week.
PRACTICE REPORT TIDBITS:
BYU enters this week's Wyoming game ranked sixth in the MWC in total offense, after losing four of the six fumbles last week during the UNLV game last week. During practice, wide receiver coach Todd Bradford had his wide receivers run drills where they sprinted down the sidelines while a defensive player grabbed, swatted and tugged at the ball, try to force fumbles. If the ball was dropped or squirted out from the grasp of the receiver' s hand, the entire wide receiver corps had to do push ups.
The vocal and spirited freshman receiver Antwaun Harris was the first to put the ball on the ground to the delight of his defensive tormentor. The entire receiver group was on the ground doing push ups. No cornerback was ever successful again in getting Harris to drop another ball. The drill would often times turn into mid-sprinting wrestling matches between receivers and cornerbacks that often ended up being played out on the ground.
The drill was followed up by skeleton drills between receivers and cornerbacks who would go through their normal practice progressions with one twist: When ever a receiver caught a ball, the cornerback punched, swatted and pulled at the ball to try and force a fumble.
Meanwhile, the offensive and defensive units gang tackled running backs, tight ends and receivers found themselves being mobbed by swatting defenders doing all they could to put the ball on the ground.
With Jon Burbidge suffering an arm injury during the UNLV game, katback Quinn Gooch saw plenty of time at safety, and made a nice break on an interception during scrimmage.
Sophomore middle linebacker Matt Ah You also go into the action when he dropped back into pass coverage and picked off a pass over the middle and ran it back for a touchdown, as did O'Neil Howell.
Daniel Marquardt saw limited action at defensive tackle today and seems to be slowly recovering from injury and improving every week.
Austin Collie caught a nice deep ball and ran it into the end zone. His older brother, Zac Collie, also caught a deep ball and took it to the house as well.
Quarterback John Beck struggled again with overthrown balls to receivers to begin the day's practice and received a few lectures and throwing tips by coaches. Beck settled down and found his receivers and seemed to get back on track with his short game accuracy. He hit Antwaun Harris, Daniel Coats, Todd Watkins, Austin Collie, Rod Wilkerson, Jason Kukahiko and Chris Hale in stride both deep, over the middle and in the flat. The practice ended more productively than it began.
Despite losing to UNLV at home, the team entered today's practice with their normal serious demeanor. The players didn't seem to be dragging their feet or hanging their heads. Once the team loosened up, everything seemed to flow much better as execution was markedly improved.
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