Secondary Tweaking

When Bronco Mendenhall brought the 3-3-5 to Provo it was touted as an aggressive high-risk, high-reward scheme. As the Cougars prepare for the final two games of the season, they have made a few changes to reduce their defensive risk factor.

It has been no secret since the beginning of fall camp that the biggest concern surrounding this year's team lies in the underclassmen laden secondary. Now that BYU is nine games into the season, Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has gone about tweaking the coverages to fit his personnel accordingly.

"I don't want to say exactly what Coach Mendenhall is doing, but it's helping us out big time on the outside in coverages," said cornerback Kayle Buchanan. "What he's doing is making it more simple for us where we can just concentrate on a few techniques."

What became readily apparent when watching the secondary schemes against UNLV was the switch from the standard high-pressure man schemes inherent in Mendenhall's schemes to almost exclusive zone coverage. According to Mendenhall the types of offenses BYU will face down the stretch starting with UNLV call for a change in defensive philosophy.

"The types of offense that UNLV plays is a spread offense where there are four and five receivers out there almost every time," said Mendenhall. "We felt that the matchups were in UNLV's favor in terms of man-coverage."

Mendenhall's scheme was not entirely predicated upon the exclusive matchups between his secondary and UNLV's style of offense. As head coach, Mendenhall has learned to play and dictate schemes collectively according to the capabilities of his offense and defense.

"I also felt in managing the game that at some point we'd get a lead and that it wouldn't be appropriate to pressure and play man coverage in trying to protect the lead and taking risks that weren't necessary," said Mendenhall. "It was projected with how I thought the game would go and what style of offense we were playing and that's what we came up with and we were fortunate that it worked."

Buchanan gives a boost

One of the changes in BYU's coverages other than changes within the coverage schemes themselves is the return and emergence of Kayle Buchanan. Buchanan fought back from a hamstring injury that kept him out until the Notre Dame game. After picking off a pass and recording impressive tackles and knockdowns against UNLV, Buchanan is finding his niche in BYU's needy cornerbacks corps.

"He's now started three football games and he's improving and developing in each one" said Mendenhall of Buchanan. "Not only is he playing better, but his hamstring is getting better and I think you're seeing a natural progression in a young man with enough ability and enough preparation week-in and week-out in improving his game. I would expect his progression to continue with every game."

"I'm a little more comfortable now," said Buchanan. "I'm more confident in the system. I'm just so thankful to Coach Mendenhall and Coach Mitchell for helping me and all of us progress in our outside coverages. I think I'm getting more aggressive and the changes are helping with that. I have a long way to go, but I'm getting there."

Picks Are Piling Up

What might strike the casual fan as a bit ironic is the fact that since the switch to a more conservative defensive approach, BYU's secondary and defense as a whole has been able to produce more turnovers. Buchanan, Spencer White and Justin Luettgerodt each had an interception against UNLV, and apparently that was just the beginning.

"It was too long coming," said Buchanan regarding his first interception. "Way too long to be picking off your first pass nine games into the season, but I'm looking to get some more and finish out strong here."

"I think turnovers were the difference in the first half of the [UNLV] game," said Mendenhall. "It was a tightly contested game and then three short fields caused by turnovers helped switch the momentum because it was very close even up until that point. We've been working on it hard all year and it's just nice to see it show up on game day to add momentum to the coaching we're giving our players."

"We're getting more confident," said Buchanan. "We're much more able and comfortable with the schemes now that coach Mendenhall has made certain changes. He's just an awesome coach who knows exactly what to do. Hopefully we'll continue to force turnovers to help our offense out because we haven't been helping them enough."

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