That's true of many defensive lines across the country which are relying less on stunts and misdirection than straight ahead physical play. The Cougars are a prototypical four man front, with two tackles and two ends. But they've gone to a myriad of different looks, and not simply for nickel and dime packages. BYU has stood up as many as nine players, including their defensive edge rushers along the line. It has utilized an odd front look, then walked up a rush linebacker out of a 3-4 or even 3-3-5 design. And it has used three down linemen with two linebackers right on the ends when facing a power run look. In each case, much of the variation was obviously designed to match the styles of offense faced, from Arizona's spread to UCLA's traditional pro sets.
But what BYU doesn't do is try and fool the opposing line purely along the front. Sure, it'll slide gap control and attack different areas on either side of the defensive linemen, but it doesn't move the line around after the snap to confuse. It simply plugs or attacks gaps based on assignment and tries to create a new line of scrimmage or get individual penetration. It's a physical, man vs man standoff along the line, and the Cougars are looking for a blue-collar clash.
Led by end Harvey Langi (6-3, 252 lbs.), BYU starts two seniors, a junior and a sophomore. Langi moved to defensive end from linebacker during fall camp to give BYU additional speed after being the second-leading tackler on the team a season ago. The Utah transfer actually ended up on the Butkus Award watch lists this season before the move to end became known, and he's secured that outside spot with an ability to both seal the edge and pressure in the passing game. It'll be just the latest in a series of early challenges for WVU's tackles, with the Mountaineers again planning to start Colton McKivitz on the blindside opposite Marcell Lazard.
"We look forward to the challenge of playing teams like this," WVU offensive line coach Ron Crook said. "That's why you have success and have competitive guys who want to play teams who play hard. Who want to play teams who are physical, and who want to go out and see how we match-up against them and see how we play against them. Take those teams who are good at what they do and say 'OK, let's take what we are good at and see who can play the best.'"
The approach has worked for both teams thus far, and this is a match-up of strength vs strength. West Virginia's line was ranked among the best in the Big 12 in the preseason, and despite injuries and shuffling has played well for all but a sluggish first half versus Youngstown State. The Mountaineers have averaged 32 points per game and litter the NCAA rankings on offense, coming in at seventh in yards per game at 559, along with being tucked securely in the Top 25 in rushing yards per game (23rd; 238) and passing (18th; 321). WVU also ranks 16th in third down conversions and first in sacks allowed with zero - a stat which will be severely tested this weekend.
Brigham Young's no slouch, as it ranks 30th in scoring defense at just 17.7 points per game and has held its first three foes to 20 or fewer points, the first time a Cougar defense has accomplished the feat since 1984, when the school won the national title. BYU is 37th in rushing defense at just 111 yards allowed per game, and has recorded five sacks, part of at least six negative yardage plays in each of the first three games. It combines for a total of 22 over 195 snaps, an average of one for every 8.8 plays. BYU recorded eight negative yardage plays versus UCLA, and has had at least six tackles for loss in 15 of its last 16 games.
"A lot of it is one-on-one match-ups," Crook said. "I haven't seen that number, but it's not surprising. They do some things where they get some linebackers through off the edge and through the middle. This is a team that, the effort these guys play with, it's not going to be matched by anyone. You can tell how important football is to them. They play hard and they believe in themselves and they are well-coached in their scheme. When you put all those things together, you got guys coming through (to pressure) and guys continuing to fight until the end of the play.
"If a play gets strung out, you might see a running back stick his foot in the ground and get back to the line of scrimmage, but these guys are going to keep coming and they are going to make the play in the backfield. They don't miss a lot of tackles. All of that put together means you are seeing plays made in the backfield."
It also means BYU will play through the whistle, as they say. Or the last echo of the whistle. And while most wouldn't critique the program as dirty by any stretch, it does mean the Cougars will exert effort until they're sure the play is finished. It's an aspect Crook had to address, as he does most weeks, to ensure West Virginia doesn't focus on any extracurriculars.
"It's not something new," Crook said. "It's something you do every week. You have to. One of the things I talked to them about was not allowing themselves to get caught up in anything. A lot of times players will try to bait you into something towards the end of a play and get you to retaliate, and it's always the person who retaliates who gets caught. I don't see different things (from BYU) than I see from most teams, but of course that's something to talk about on a regular basis."
BYU's line also helped middle linebacker Butch Pau'u record a career-high 19 tackles against UCLA. The standout sophomore was kept clean most of the game, allowing him to penetrate gaps and scrap down the line effectively. Pau'u hasn't finished with less than nine tackles in any game this season, and has 5.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Brigham Young's defense ranked ninth last season in TFL's with an average of 7.5 per game, and is 56-9 since 2005 with a positive turnover margin. The Cougars were plus-two against Arizona and plus-three versus Utah.
"High motor," WVU right guard Kyle Bosch said of Brigham Young's defense. "They are a very well-coached team. Gotta like the players on defense. Good team to go up against. We have learned we need to start faster as a team. Start like we started in the second half (against Youngstown State). The best thing about our O-line is that we have a lot of versatility. It will always be a shuffle because we will always try to mix it up and have different looks for our opponents."