One Darn Good Defense

Under the radar, but quietly and surely, the Cougar defense has forged into a pretty dominant unit. Indeed, 2007 has seen the Cougar defense reach the top of the stat list nationally in most defensive categories. Armed with a second year of running the 3-4 system, the Cougar defense is getting better game by game.

"We've had a good year, to be sure," acknowledged Cougar linebacker Kelly Poppinga. "We all know our assignments and we're all executing at a high level. I think we're all real confident in what we're doing out there, which has led to some good outings."

Those good outings mentioned by Poppinga have put the Cougar defense on top of the Mountain West in most defensive categories. Not only that, but the defense is ranked ninth in the country in the categories of total defense and run defense.

"Stopping the run is and always will be our main focus," said defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. "By stopping the run you can really limit what an offense does, making them one-dimensional. We've done a good job of it so far this year and we're working hard to keep teams from running on us."

When a top running back encounters the Cougar defense, he'll often see his numbers decrease significantly. Causing the running backs' numbers to take a nose dive is a very stingy Cougar front-seven.

Some of the top runners BYU has faced this year - such as Frank Summers from UNLV (who only gained 50 yards against BYU), Darrell Mack from Utah (56 yards), Devin Moore from Wyoming (15 yards) and Aaron Brown from TCU (8 yards) - have all left their matchup with BYU with some relatively paltry outputs.

"We haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher on the year and we're proud of that," said linebacker Chris Bolden. "It's our focus going into every game to shut down the run first, and the fact that we haven't allowed any guys to get over 100 yards means we're doing a pretty good job."

With those sort of numbers, one would think more recognition would come BYU's way for their exploits on the defensive side of the field. Week in and week out, with only one hiccup (early in the season against Tulsa), the Cougar defense has severely limited what an opposing team is able to do offensively.

"We know we're good, so it doesn't really matter to us," said Bolden. "If people keep underestimating us, it's fine with me. We'll just keep shutting people down and let the numbers, and most importantly, the wins speak for themselves."

On the passing front, the Cougar defense hasn't put up quite as impressive numbers, but has been impressive nevertheless in limiting what teams are able to do in the air against them. The Cougar pass defense comes in ranked 23rd in pass efficiency defense and 30th in total pass defense.

"By stopping teams on the ground, of course they're going to throw more against you since the run isn't working, but hey, we're doing a great job against the pass as well," said Bolden. "I think we've proven this year that we can match up well against just about anyone. We had one bad outing against Tulsa, but we fixed that. We're fine now, as we proved against Utah, who is very similar to Tulsa in what they try to do."

The Cougar defense as a whole has played as big a part as any other facet of the team in leading BYU to back-to-back conference titles, with the Cougars securing the second-straight title last Saturday against Utah. For Bolden and company, it has been enabled by a consistent focus that will continue into this week's preparation for San Diego State.

"We're focused and we don't lose our focus no matter who we play," said Bolden. "It helps us week-in and week-out. We didn't get totally hyped up to play Utah as much as I think they did playing us, and I think it worked to our advantage. We're focused on what we do, and that is why it isn't as big of a deal to play San Diego State following a win against Utah as it probably would have been if we had a different focus every week."


The defining play that will stick with fans on both sides of the game against Utah will of course be the improbable conversion on fourth-and-18, a play that BYU had to convert in order to win the game. It was a play met with confidence by Cougar quarterback Max Hall.

"Did I want to be in that situation? Absolutely not," said Hall. "Believe me, I would much rather be taking a knee to run out the clock at that point of the game. But that is what we had, and I was confident that we could convert it."

Some backyard-type play calling went on in the huddle prior to the play, as Hall told wide receiver to run a double-move against the Utah secondary. Hall's call was met with a little doubt by the Cougar wideout, who thought that no defensive back would bite on a double-move, given the situation.

"I just thought it would work," said Hall. "Austin runs a great double-move and I just felt it would work on that play. Fortunately it did, and we were able to convert. I had to leave the pocket on that play, and as I ran downfield I saw him wide-open and just threw it as far as I could."

Hall's ability to throw a long and accurate strike in that situation, as he let go of the ball off his back foot and on the run, could be defined as a little improbable when considering the shoulder-separation he sustained the week before.

"It got there," said Hall about his pass. "It felt good when I released it and I wish I could have gotten it to him while he was on the run, so he didn't have to wait for it, but he was way down the field. Fortunately Austin ran such a good pattern and I could see that the defensive back bit a little upfield, which allowed for a lot of separation."

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