Lessons Learned

The Cougars learned some lessons from the Florida State game last Saturday. The coaches have reviewed the film and identified some issues that have become the focus of this week's practices as the Cougars get ready to face Colorado State.

Florida State rushed for 313 yards against BYU's front-seven like water through a 90-year-old man with a bladder problem. Needless to say, it wasn't pretty. FSU's run game offense exposed some defensive issues, as Coach Mendenhall mentioned during Monday's press conference, which has caused the coaches to take a second look at their run-stopping capabilities.

"That was embarrassing to us," said middle linebacker Terrance Hooks. "I think a lot of us have it in mind to never let that happen again. I think the lessons hit home from that game and now it's time to focus on ourselves and [do] what we've been taught to do. We may have lost because of how we didn't play once, but we aren't going to lose that way again."

So what were some of those problems? It was obvious the Cougar front wasn't as aggressive, didn't hold the point of attack, got out of their defensive lanes, didn't read the right keys, didn't get out of their zone blocks and tried to pursue from out of position, to name a few. As Coach Mendenhall mentioned during the press conference, there were players making mistake after mistake on key defensive plays. After watching film the Cougar defenders quickly learned what it truly means to be masters of their positions.

"We feel like our weaknesses were within ourselves," said Hooks. "Not to point or single anybody out, but there were so many times when we could identify a single individual that, if they just would have done their job, could have made a difference within that play. We feel like we beat ourselves and on top of that FSU came out and played hard, so as far as weaknesses we've got to get back to our assignments.

"I feel like we need to take a step back and get back to some of those basics that helped us become successful. We need to get back to some of those basics and become more assignment-sound in some key areas. We just need to get back and focus on some things like gaps, making the right calls and reads, basically just doing your assignments and being in the right spot at the right time."

This week the coaches have taken a step back and have focused on refining some of the little things that were exposed by FSU. The Cougar defenders have been tested this week with pre-snap issues.

"It has more to do with knowing assignments in regards to lining up and knowing our gaps and the right calls, reading the right keys and looking at the other keys and making sure everyone is doing their job instead of trying to do someone else's job," said Hooks. "It's just simple stuff like that."

Holding the point of attack means being able to read the zone blocking and then quickly make the adjustments within the given defensive play so as not to disrupt but help the others within the defense do their jobs.

"I think one thing we didn't do very well last week was reading the zone blocking and getting out of that very quickly," said Hola. "We also didn't do a good job in keeping our passing lanes and that really hurt us in third downs, so we need to get back to fundamentals and do a better job in keeping our lanes and the simplicity of our roles. We have to do a better job in trusting our guys to the left and the right of us to do their jobs as well. When we do those things it works out perfectly like in the Oklahoma game, and when we don't do those things it doesn't like in the FSU game. When we do those things right there are basically no gaps for a running back to go through or any holes [for] the quarterback to scramble through."

Controlling the lanes isn't just a responsibility of the defensive linemen. It's a process that is achieved through a cohesive dance, so to speak, between the defensive linemen and linebackers. When one is out of step, the others can become lost in the shuffle.

"Depending on the call and what linebacker is coming through, they have their own lane, so we as d-linemen have to learn to work away from whoever is coming through and learn to keep that one lane," said Tevita Hola. "If we sway away from it or are not acknowledging the play we might disrupt the entire play of the linebacker's responsibility, and that can be the Sam, Will or middle linebackers. Again, it really comes down to basics. What we have to do is keep our own lane, and if we do get caught up we have to learn not to work out of it so we can help the linebackers do what they're supposed to do more easily.

"We have to learn to stay home and stay patient and just know that the play will come to you in time. Those were all the simple things we didn't do and got caught up in focusing on Florida State rather than on us and doing our roles. When you're focusing on what you're supposed to do then you're faster within your plays. We beat ourselves in all of these areas and made things more difficult for us as a defense. It also made our ability to respond slower to what they were doing because we didn't focus on our jobs and ourselves."

As expected, Coach Mendenhall isn't taking this lightly and is developing drills to help ensure that what happened during the FSU game isn't repeated. During this week of practice, the defense has been running through those drills in preparation for conference play.

"We've actually changed up one of our drills this week," said Hola. "We changed up one of our drills to better help us develop and hold our passing lanes. It's pretty much a day-one of fall camp-type stuff, but this is a new drill that is good for us because it's helping us to reestablish some of the basics. It's a drill that will help better teach us to stay in our lanes, stay focused and stay patient and not be anxious to go chase the play and then cut back to make a play because you're out of position. That's one of the most deadliest things a defensive lineman can do in this system: overrunning a play for whatever reason and then cutting back to try and make a play because you're not in your lane. It disrupts the entire front when that happens."

To help reestablish some of the basics, Coach Mendenhall has focused on teaching specific techniques to the nose guards.

"Coach Mendenhall has been teaching us a technique called a ‘down-down block,'" said Hola. "A down-down block is pretty much just a trap or a counter. What happens is a center will cut down away from you, and once he turns away you have to learn how to cut back because someone is pulling obviously. Our job is to try and mirror whoever is pulling. What usually happens is you clog up the middle if you do it right. That's what we had been trying to do all day at practice and be more aggressive. We want to try and come out with more hunger and be more aggressive. I think that was one of the bases of our problems during our last game. It wasn't that they were better than us, it was that we didn't want it as bad as they did. I think it's kind of a blessing in disguise."

Like with Hola, the defensive wake-up call is now being deemed a blessing in disguise by some of the defenders. The Cougars now want to take those lessons learned, focus on their weaknesses this week and prepare themselves to come out and represent the program and institution they play for in the conference opener.

"I do feel it was a blessing in disguise," said Hooks. "I feel like we learned a few lessons that might have been forgotten. I feel like it's better to learn or be reminded of things prior to going into conference play so things like that don't happen again. To me this was a blessing in disguise."

"I think it was a blessing in disguise because we're pretty anxious to come out and play again this weekend against Colorado State," Hola said. "We feel like we didn't come out and play in a way that represented this institution and program last week. We want to come out and show who we represent this weekend, but this time do it in a way that we were taught by the coaches. We learned a lot from the FSU game that we'll take going into conference play. We want to come out and focus on ourselves, trust our guys next to us, play with more aggression, play with more discipline and do our assignments correctly. When we do this then we will be representing who we are and the institution we play for."


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