The numbers were not pretty for last year's defensive backs. They surrendered over 269 yards through the air and 25 passing touchdowns. Opposing teams threw for a 7.9-yard per pass average and 12.5 yards per reception, which surpassed the mark set by BYU's own prolific offense.
"It has to change," said starting safety Quinn Gooch about the secondary's performance of last year. "We put in an entire new scheme to address it, got a new coach, basically did everything to change it. Now it's just up to us. It's all on us."
The obvious change this year came with the new 3-4 zone-heavy scheme that new cornerbacks coach Jaime Hill is directing. It is a scheme that coaches felt could best serve the talent BYU currently has and typically gets at the defensive back position. So far, the returns have been positive in practice.
"The secondary is definitely better," said quarterback John Beck who is perhaps the foremost authority on the strengths and weaknesses of BYU's defensive backfield due to the volume of reps he took against them in fall camp. "They're more confident in their coverages, and it's been tougher this year going against them. They've definitely improved and hopefully that shows up this season starting against Arizona. It think it will."
The defensive backs certainly feel that the move to a more conventional coverage scheme has translated into improved practice play. The safeties and cornerbacks have less to worry about in the new defense, and that suits them just fine.
"It's not like we have to do 4 or 5 different things back there with every play," said Gooch. "It's a lot more simple than it has been, especially for us [safeties]. In the past we weren't really safeties because we did everything that linebackers do. Now we're just doing what most safeties do in providing over-the-top coverages. We still might blitz and do other stuff, sure, but it's a lot more simplified. I have a lot of confidence in what we're doing, and we'll see what becomes of it this Saturday."
Criddle to Help Out
One of the more significant depth chart movements this fall has been walk-on Ben Criddle taking over the starting boundary cornerback duties from Kayle Buchanan. While Buchanan is still battling through nagging injuries, Criddle is ready to step up and play as he promised head coach Bronco Mendenhall a year ago.
"I told Coach Mendenhall when we first met that I would start and be an all-MWC cornerback for him," said Criddle. "I still believe that is what will happen. I have a lot of confidence, and I'm ready to have a great year."
Several of Criddle's teammates have noticed how he was the cornerback's most consistent performer in fall camp. He was solid in both run support and pass coverage.
"Ben Criddle wears those ankle braces, but don't let that fool you," said Gooch. "He's a very good player and very fast. He's helped us a lot in practice, and he's going to help us a lot this year. We all have a lot of confidence in him."
"We play the same position," said Buchanan, "I'm battling him for a spot sort of, but I seriously want coaches to do what is best for the team. If I'm starting and not getting it done, then I want Criddle in there. It's not about me, we're a team. I just want us not to get embarrassed again. I feel that I can help with that, and I feel that Ben can as well."
If Criddle pulls through with his all-Mountain West prognostication, it should be a good sign for the Cougar secondary.
"I don't know of too many bad secondaries that have first-team all-Conference players on it," said Criddle. "That's my goal, and if I do that then it will mean that we're getting it done covering guys and lending good run support throughout the year."
So the cards are on the table. The BYU secondary has a new system, a new coach, and, perhaps most importantly, a new confidence. Of course, none of it means anything if they cannot get it done on the field starting with the game against Arizona this Saturday.
"I guess we'll see, won't we?" asked Gooch about how he and his teammates will fare against the Wildcats. "We've put a lot of work in, but none of it matters if we can't get it done on the field. We have confidence that we will, but we'll see this Saturday if we're ready to step up and not be the weak link on this team anymore."
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