From a Weakness to a Strength

In recent years, it has almost become a given that BYU would have to win in spite of its secondary. Now six games into the 2006 season, the Cougar defensive backs are armed with a new system and a new coach, and they have replaced their reputation for defensive breakdowns with a reputation for playmaking in critical situtations.

"They're awesome; they're dominant," said linebacker Bryan Kehl about the Cougar secondary. "They're the best secondary BYU has had for years. I'm so thankful to be playing with them because they make us so much better."

BYU has put up improved pass defense numbers this year compared to last year. On average, the Cougar secondary is giving up a full yard less per pass and over thirty yards less per game. Most notably, the Cougar pass defense has given up only five touchdown passes in six games. The group is pleased with the progress, but they still believe they can get even better.

"We're getting stronger and stronger and more confident with every game," said safety Dustin Gabriel. "If we do what we have to do then we have nothing to worry about. The coverages and system we're running is sound. Now it's just making sure that we get better every week. We have a lot to work on and we know that we need to get better."

Under the Hill

The biggest change for this year's secondary has obviously come with the hiring of defensive backs coach Jaime Hill who came to Provo literally hours before the Cougars commenced spring practices. Six games into the season, Hill's influence is readily apparent.

"Coach Hill knows what he's doing," said cornerback Ben Criddle. "He brings so much experience. He knows everything. He knows what the offense is thinking during games. He'll be yelling at me on the sidelines to ‘watch this' or ‘alert this' and he ends up being right just about every time. He just sees it all and we're learning that when we execute and look for exactly what he says that we'll be successful."

So what is Coach Hill doing specifically? Is the new defense fraught with new coverage schemes that confuse opposing offenses? Will defenses be able to adjust in time? Not at all. BYU's coverages are pretty simple.

"We're not doing anything complex out there," said Criddle. "The coverages we've been running have been really basic actually. It's just two to three different coverages each game. We're adding stuff and when we do we'll be just that much better. Coach Hill is bringing us along slowly and we'll start mixing it up even more and confuse offenses more and more with every week."

Help in Front

Due to the improved play from the Cougar secondary, the defensive linemen and the linebackers can focus more on their assignments.

"We all know that we don't have to worry about what they're doing now and it's a huge advantage," said Kehl. "It helps me and everyone else be more aggressive knowing that [the secondary] has our backs."

All-Conference

During preseason practices, Criddle went into head coach Bronco Mendenhall's office to inform Coach Mendenhall that he would eventually start and become a first-team all-Mountain West cornerback. As the season began, it did not seem likely the JC transfer walk-on would deliver on his promise as a junior, but after six games, All-MWC honors are not out of the question for any BYU defensive backs.

"Yes sir," Criddle unhesitatingly replied when asked if he was on his way to fulfilling all-MWC goal. "I just need to start catching those balls that hit me in my hands. I should have about three interceptions by now. I see Justin [Robinson] and Dustin [Gabriel] getting picks and returning them for touchdowns and I get a bit jealous. I need to start doing that."

So is the Cougar secondary the strength of the defense yet?

"We're getting there," answered Gabriel. "It's going to be hard to get better than our linebackers. Those guys are just awesome, but I feel and we all feel that we're on our way. We have the system, we have the coach and we have the players to become one of the best secondaries in the conference and one of the best in the country."

Injury Notes

-Ian Dulan is day-to-day after missing the past two games with back spasms

-Both Fui Vakapuna and Aaron Wagner sustained high ankle sprains against San Diego State. Both are expected to play against UNLV next week.

-Ray Feinga is expected to play against UNLV after being held out of the San Diego State game due to injury

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