Last Friday during BYU's full scrimmage practice at LaVell Edwards Stadium, tight end Dennis Pitta was on the receiving end of a hit that left safety Chris Warner hobbled. Today, Warner was seen at practice with the aid of crutches.
However, prior to Friday's scrimmage, tight end Andrew George was on the receiving end of a vicious and unsuspecting Quinn Gooch blow that left the sophomore a bit dazed and a bit upset. But like Pitta, George would later return to the business of catching passes.
"Football is football. You put on pads and you go out and you hit each other and this is the nature of the game," Gooch said. "Sure, you don't want to hurt your own guys and you don't want to unload on anybody, and I don't want to do that either, but sometimes you catch a guy just right and it looks good. I have held up some and haven't really hit anybody really, really hard yet.
"With guys coming off the seams there's no free passes. Well, it should be a little bit with teammates, but no, not even teammates. There are no free passes. If they're going to throw the seams they gotta know and understand that if they catch it they better go down."
Today, it was Michael Reed's turn to feel the aggression of BYU's defensive secondary. After making an outreaching catch over the middle, Gooch again was on hand at the right place and at the right time to make his presence felt.
"In regards to this defense, when you play zone you have to play physical," said Gooch. "Zone is designed to keep everything in front of you just like the coaches tell us, and it allows you to put guys in your sights to lay down the big hits."
In order to use the advantages of what the zone defense provides in order to be able to dish out some of that punishment, the defensive backs have to be in the right place at the right time. This comes with a better understanding of how the scheme works and how to use it to defend against the passing game.
"It does help quite a bit," Gooch said. "Just knowing where you need to be and the angles when the ball is thrown helps a lot. A year of experience has enabled us to know the defense better and put in better position to make plays."
With a grasp of how the defense works and how it stacks up against various offensive schemes, players then begin transforming themselves from mere players into students of the game.
"When you know what you're doing and you know where to be, you just start to learn different aspects of the game," said Gooch. "Rather than trying to be a player within the game you become a student of the game. When you get to that point, you start to learn what offenses are doing. When offenses line up in certain sets, you know how your defense works against that, and so you have a different aspect of how to process the game at a different level to put yourself in a position to make plays and make the hit.
"When you process the game a lot faster, you're able to put yourself in a better position. I don't think I'm faster than I was last year, but you just have to know things in order to put yourself at the right position at the right time to make a play on the ball."
Playing from his safety position, Gooch has an overall clear view of how his teammates are lined up within a given defensive formation. If needed, he can direct players, and often does, to the correct position locations on the field.
"It is a lot easier because when you play within a defense longer, you know where people are supposed to go," Gooch said. "I have a pretty good understating of where the linebackers are and where they're supposed to go to make plays. I can see and let them know where to better put themselves in the position to better defend against the pass or to better come up on the run. It's just the feel and the overall understanding that you've got crammed into your head and are able to figure everything out."
But learning and improving upon these aspects doesn't simply stop because one has grasped certain aspects of the game. To stay ahead of opponents who will be scouting out BYU's 3-4-4 defensive scheme, the coaches of BYU will throw in new ideas, make improvements and tweaks to keep offenses from zeroing in on weaknesses.
"We're obviously going to be better having learned it more, but then again other teams are going to watch our film from last year and that's what they're going to study," Gooch said. "They're going to study what we did last year to try and figure out what the weaknesses are to try and break it. So our work isn't done because we can't play the same defense as last year. We can't do the same things as last year and we have to improve and do things a little different to make sure we're on top of things and they're still trying to figure us out.
"Now, our coaches are going back and reassessing our own game film to see what we did well and where we might have been lacking a bit in last year's coverage. We'll then go in and tighten those things up while still improving on the other aspects of our game. If we do the exact same things as we did last year we'll get beat, so it can't be the same. The coaches will also try and figure out how to do what we accomplished well last year with new people."
Despite the secondary aggression and the hard hits, there have been more touchdown passes thrown at this period of time than last year. Gooch feels this is probably due to the seesaw battles between the defensive and offensive coaches, with the offensive coaches having a better understanding of how to attack the defensive secondary.
"It's hard to say we're ahead of last year's secondary at this point in time when you see how many touchdowns they've had," Gooch said. "I don't remember us giving up as many touchdown passes in our scrimmage and we've already given up a handful of touchdowns in our first week. That's a tribute to our offensive coordinators who've figured out what things they can do to break our scheme."
In the tug of war battles that take place between the offensive and defensive coaches, the early success by the Cougar offense will only help Coach Mendenhall and his defensive staff to adjust to the new offensive attacks in this evolutionary game of predator versus prey.
"It will help better-mold our defense so we can get better," said Gooch. "I mean, we still have things we need to develop and get better at what we do. There are things we do well but there are things we need to improve on and this happens when offensive coaches break us down. There's a battle within a battle that goes on and we as a team improve overall because of it."