"I honestly can't remember the last time there was a deep ball thrown on us," said Jensen. "It's not just the cornerbacks, but the whole secondary. They're getting it done not just with coverage but tackling guys as well. They're just doing a great job."
"They're not getting anything over the top on us," said cornerback Ben Criddle. "CSU got one pass on me in the flat last game for about 7 yards and I can't think of one time when they completed anything against J-5 [Justin Robinson]. We take a lot of pride in that, and we aim to do that in every game."
Early in the season, teams has so little success going deep on BYU that opponents have given up the long ball altogether in recent games. Attempts downfield have become so rare that casual fans may not even notice which players are seeing most of the reps in the secondary.
Cornerback and safety are the two positions on defense where it is not a bad thing at all to fly under the radar. If the defensive backs are not receiving any attention it usually means that they have tight coverage and that the big boys up front are taking care of business.
"Yeah, we were getting noticed a lot last year—noticed too much," laughed Robinson. "It's nice to make plays and we're making plays when we have a chance, but teams aren't picking on us anymore, that's for sure. We're picking on them."
Of course playing in total obscurity is nearly impossible for a any player regardless of position. For Criddle, being noticed is something that he wants but only for the right reason. At the close of every practice, the JC walk-on is out there with quarterback John Beck and his receivers spending extra time catching balls.
"I want to make plays every chance I get," said Criddle. "Sure, it's nice that teams aren't throwing it our way. It means we're getting it done in coverage, but we need to make plays when we have the chance, and we're looking to do more of that."
It is not as if the Cougar pass defense is not already making plays. BYU has 12 interceptions on the season, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The turnover margin has increased substantially in Cougarland due in large part to the corners and the rest of the secondary being more able to make plays.
The chief factor for the improved coverages and interceptions is the scheme change. While Robinson is still covering most receivers man-on-man, Criddle plays mainly zone coverage as the boundary corner.
"It seems that I'm getting more balls thrown my way for whatever reason," said Criddle. "I don't know if it's just that teams don't gameplan attacking the field corner, or if it's just that Justin is doing such a great job. Probably a little of both, but they seem to be throwing it my way a bit more, which is fine. They're not getting much when they do."
Criddle rattled off his responsibilities in every one of the Cougars' coverages. What started as a basic 3-4 package has evolved into a more complicated defense that is tailored to each opponent.
"We've added stuff with every game this season and we'll continue to do that, but we know our basic responsibilities," said Criddle. "I have a bit more things to read than Justin, but his responsibility is demanding on him physically since he has to cover guys one-on-one for the most part."
While Robinson is basically playing the same sort of coverages he did a season ago, the level at which he is executing has increased substantially.
"I'm healthy; I finally feel like I did in junior college," said Robinson. "I was hurting so bad last year. It was so tough just to get through practice most days. It seemed like I had to work three times as hard for everything. This year I'm just playing. I'm back to my old self. Practice is fun again. It's fun when you're healthy."
The drastically improved play by the Cougar corners has inspired the rest of the BYU defenders to elevate their game as well.
"It helps us out so much knowing that they'll be there in run support and doing their job covering behind us," said Jensen. "We probably had to worry too much about what was going on behind us in the past, but not anymore. I know and everyone else knows that those guys are getting it done, and it's helping all of us."
Defensive tackle Hala Paongo is coming off his second game seeing exclusive reps at defensive end. It has been a bit of an adjustment for the former nose guard, but Paongo is just happy to help where he can.
"I'll play wherever they want me," said Paongo. "It's challenging and it's different, but I'm getting used to it. It involves a lot more finesse and speed where playing nose tackle is pretty much all about strength and leverage."
Hague in a Sling
Running back Mike Hague had his arm in a sling at today's practice. The extent of the injury is unknown, but TBS will look for more information tomorrow.
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