Defensive coordinator Kent Baer has the task of shutting down a traditionally powerful offense in BYU. The Cougars struggled last season on offense, scoring just 16.3 points per game, but Baer believes this Cougar offense will challenge his defense, especially his inexperienced secondary.
"They're a good offense," Baer said of the BYU offense. "They spread you out—make you cover the whole field. We've just got to do our thing and make sure we're aligned properly, play hard and I think we'll be OK."
Baer also believes the Cougars will test his untested secondary, but he says he's fine with that.
"They're going to get tested sometime," the third-year Irish coach said. "Might as well do it now. They've got to get their feet wet sooner or later, might as well be now."
The Irish do return sack master Justin Tuck and Kyle Budniscak as starters at end. Senior Greg Pauly has started at defensive tackle, and Baer also has some talented nose guards in Derek Landri and Trevor Laws up front.
Baer admits he's hoping the front four can generate enough pressure up front to protect the green backfield.
"I think we're pretty talented up there," Baer said of his front four. "I'd like to be able to settle those guys in without having to blitz, and see if we can get into some passing situations and get four guys rushing the passer. We'll line up best-on-best and see how it goes."
Speaking of the secondary, it's been confirmed that Preston Jackson will start at one corner spot while Dwight Ellick will man the other position. Baer said Jackson will move over to his familiar nickel position when in the nickel package.
"He moves to nickel, Carlos Campbell comes in (for Jackson), Baer said when asked how he'll handle the nickel package. "They're both going to play a lot."
"We haven't decided yet, probably Michael Richardson," was Baer response when asked who would play the dime position on Saturday.
Strong safety appears to be the only position that remains uncertain. At Tuesday's practice, senior Lionel Bolen was getting the reps when lining up with the first-team defense.
"It's up in the air right now," Baer said of the starter at strong safety. "We're trying to work three guys there with Freddie Parish, Lionel Bolen and I don't know if Ndukwe is ready to go there yet."
"That's the biggest thing," Baer said when asked if experience is what Bolen brings to the table. "He's had some battles. I think he started Boston College last year. That's the biggest thing--he's just more battle-tested. He's physically talented."
Another remaining question is the availability of linebacker Brandon Hoyte. Hoyte has sat out most of fall camp with a shoulder injury, but was also seen Tuesday running with the first team in the same drills. Baer said the decision on whether Hoyte will play won't be made until later in the week.
"We're getting him into some practices," Baer said of Hoyte. "He got some reps today. We'll see how he's feeling tomorrow and we'll kind of go from there."
"Corey (Mays) and Mike Goolsby would start at inside if Brandon can't go," was Baer's response when asked who would take over for Hoyte if he couldn't play.
Returning from off-season knee injuries are defensive ends, Justin Tuck and Kyle Budinscak. Baer said he expects both to play, but both will be in a four-man rotation on Saturday.
"Justin (Tuck) and Kyle (Budinscak) are going to play, Victor (Abiamiri) is going to play, Chris Frome is going to play, those four guys are going to play end," Baer said. "We're going to rotate those four and try to keep them as fresh as we can. They all deserve to play."
One challenge Baer will face on Saturday will be to get his unproven secondary some valuable playing experience while also protecting them and keeping them from becoming a liability. A solid pass rush on Saturday will go a long way to accomplishing that goal.