The Past and Present Chime In

Safeties Andrew Rich and Scott Johnson roamed the Cougar secondary together last season. But while Rich has been preparing for the Huskies and will suit up this Saturday, Johnson has moved on after completing his senior year. Nevertheless, Johnson is still very much interested in the Cougars' season opener, and is familiar with their opponent. The two shared their thoughts on this Saturday's game.

"They're a good team and it's going to be a challenge," Rich said about the Washington Huskies. "Obviously Jake Locker is a great player and they've got good running backs and they've got some explosive receivers. I haven't watched too much of their defense, but we're going to have to play well to beat them."

When BYU last faced the Huskies, Rich didn't play much due to a broken hand. Still, he remembers the challenges that Locker presented on the field.

"Big and fast ... He's an amazing athlete and has just gotten better over time, so it's going to be a big challenge for us. You know, last year we faced a great quarterback and a great team [in the Oklahoma Sooners]. Hopefully this year's team is up for the challenge and we just have to play our butts off."

Former BYU defensive back Scotty Johnson did see a lot of time on the field against Washington in 2007 and is familiar with having to defend against Locker.

"It's like Coach Mendenhall said, the tough thing is playing a quarterback that's so mobile as Jake Locker is," Johnson said. "Not only mobile, but is bigger than most of the running backs. One of the hardest hits I took that season was trying to take out his legs and having those big thighs hit me in the head. He's a great athlete and can move around. You can't bring pressure to make him uncomfortable in the pocket because he can throw the ball just as well. He can also make plays by making you miss and by breaking tackles [and] then outrunning [the] secondary, so it makes any team difficult to plan for obviously."

BYU's defense is young at some key areas, primarily in the middle of the field at linebacker and at one of the safety spots. While the team might be more athletic than it has been in years, it remains to be seen whether its talent can overcome its youth, especially when playing a multifaceted quarterback like Locker.

"I don't know yet and we'll find out September 4th," said Rich with a smile. "It's kind of hard to say. You know, I think we have an athletic team and I think we have a lot of speed on the edges especially. But until we play, it's kind of hard to say.

"Like I said, I think we have an athletic team, but it's hard to say. You know, I think wisdom always prevails over youth. That's what my dad told me, but I think we have some good players that have learned the scheme and should be able to play fast and make plays. Obviously we're younger, but I think the guys have been studying harder to make up for lost time."

The first priority for the defense would have to be forcing Washington to become one-dimensional.

"I think first and foremost we have to stop the run," Rich said. "Like I said before, it's kind of hard to say how good we are or where we're going to be when we haven't played a game. So I think the question mark of will we be able to stop the run is going to be answered. I think our front seven's tough, and stopping the run first and foremost I think is going to be most important for us on Saturday.

"I think we have to make [Locker] throw the ball. If he's running on us then I think that's going to be a problem for us, so the more we have him sit in the pocket and throw the ball and beat us with his arm, I think the better chance we'll have of winning the game."

With Locker becoming more of a pocket passer, there is more balance between the passing and running attack of the Husky offense.

"Yeah, [Sarkisian] runs a very balanced attack," said Rich. "I remember watching him in ‘96 and admiring the way he played. When I was younger I didn't really understand schemes so I couldn't say if it's similar to when he played. But you know, they have a great idea about how to win games and move the ball. Like Coach [Mendenhall] said, it's very similar to our offense, except I think they like the deep ball a little more.

"They're pretty explosive. Their slotback and wideouts, like I said, are very fast and the quarterback has a lot of confidence to just throw it up and let them make a play. They definitely can stretch the defense and make it tough for safeties and corners, so we're going to have to play our very best to beat those guys and stay in coverage. Once [Locker] moves around he can still wing the ball 65 yards."

Being a more seasoned defender and team captain, Rich will have a bit more pressure placed on his shoulders this Saturday.

"Yeah, I think that's a little bit of the pressure I'm feeling," Rich said. "Obviously I can motivate but I can't play for somebody. I think the guys that we have are going to play their butts off, and I guess that's all you can ask for as a captain. I have to lead by example and play my hardest to win the game. So yeah, I think there's added pressure, but it's pressure I put on myself."

Playing alongside Rich will be junior Steven Thomas at the free safety position. Johnson expressed confidence in both of them handling the defensive calls.

"The free safety isn't the only one making all the calls," Johnson said. "Andrew and I got to the point where when that first game came around we could glance at each other and know what's going on. He could control his half as much as I could control mine, and I was the one that had to be a little more vocal just to put one authoritative guy back there I guess.

"You know, in terms of a step down, I don't see that at all. Andrew is experienced and he can control that whole thing back there. Also, Steven Thomas is a stud back there and I've watched film with him and let him coach me up as to what he's learned. I think he's ready for the position and ready to help control the defense. The great thing is he'll be back there with a stud like Andrew Rich playing the double role of getting the right people in the right spots."

"You know, collectively I would say as a defensive backfield we are all trying to chip in and do their part," said Rich. "I wouldn't necessarily say it's all on me. Scotty [Johnson] did a lot and I'm glad that I don't have to take on the whole thing by myself."

Johnson indicated that Rich is in good hands playing alongside Thomas, and in fact even said that this year's safety tandem is a step up from last year when he was back there playing the free safety position.

"I've worked with Steven for years and watched him grown up in that position," said Johnson. "I've seen him learn the defense and have seen him play in tight situations in games. When people ask me if he's going to be ready, I don't hesitate one bit to say that he's ready. I think with him back there, there is a step up because he's more athletic than I am. He's more faster than I am and probably hits a lot harder than I do too, so I think with him back there it's a step up."

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