'Nole Your Enemy: The BYU Cougar Defense

BYU Senior Defensive End Jan Jorgensen sacks UCLA's Quarterback.

We started with South Florida (OffenseDefense).  Yesterday we discussed BYU's Offense, and I'm proud to say that most BYU fans thought the article was spot-on.  Today we'll talk BYU's defense.  

BYU's Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall is a defensive guy and for the most part, BYU's defenses have been quite solid under his tutelage.  They are not blitz-crazy by any means, but that's probably a result of some personnel issues.  Mendenhall runs a 3-4, but he's really a 3-3-5 guy. 

BYU's 2008 Defense

This was a bad defense.  There's not any other way to describe it.  Their season started off decent on the surface, but they were beating up on some pitiful offenses.  Some decent teams would soon expose them, as they gave up at least 5 TD's in 5 of their final 6 games. Here are some rather shocking results to help you understand just how bad BYU's defense was last year.

Every Division-1 Defense FSU played was significantly better than BYU.  Every one.  I decided to put this in graph form:


"One of these things is not like the other..."

The graph speaks for itself, but there is still more.  Not only was BYU much worse on defense than any FSU opponent, but FSU was better than any offense BYU's defense faced.  Once again, we find BYU beating up on bad teams, and really struggling with decent teams.  This one needs a graph and a chart.  First, the graph:


BYU didn't face many great offenses.  FSU's Offense was better than any offense BYU faced last season.  BYU did an excellent job of beating up on bad teams.  Look at hoiw they shut down New Mexico, Wyoming, UCLA (home of 4 different starting QB's in one year), and San Diego State!  Feast your eyes:


Opponent Adjusted Offensive Efficiency of BYU's Opponents (Higher # is better) Nat'l Rank Points Allowed by BYU Defense
Florida State 0.298 15 ???
Arizona 0.207 26 31
Utah 0.194 28 48
UNLV 0.161 35 35
TCU 0.093 47 32
Colorado State 0.002 63 42
Air Force -0.076 72 24
Utah State -0.265 100 14
Washington -0.274 101 27
San Diego State -0.31 106 12
UCLA -0.364 111 0
Wyoming -0.383 112 0
New Mexico -0.402 114



  • Against 6 opponents with an offense outside the top 100, BYU allowed an average of 9 points per game. 
  • Against 7 opponents with an offense inside the top 100 (though no top 25 offenses), BYU allowed an average of 32 points per game, and Air Force is included in that because they were a top 100 offense.  That's hardly a mark of distinction for the cadets as their offense was still very much below average nationally.
  • Remember the graph above.  BYU didn't play an offense as good as FSU's.  How many points would the 'Noles have scored?  50?  55?  50 sounds about right, because the 'Noles would undoubtedly have ran the ball in the second half more than some of the other offenses did. 

So it seems that BYU does a really nice job of playing hard all the way through blowouts, where other schools might take plays off towards the end.  That helps their numbers, but a motivated 2nd string isn't going to help the Cougars take a bite out of the 'Noles. 

Bad Against the Run

BYU ranked 87th nationally in stopping the run.  That's obviously very bad.  They got blown off the ball by some average offensive lines.  More on this later in the article, but for now, check out how their rushing defense stacked up against FSU's 2008 opponents' run defense.


FSU had its best offensive games against the teams at the bottom, where BYU is. This was a horrible defense last season.

Terrible Against the Pass

For as bad as they were against the run (87th), they were even worse against the pass, finishing 98th in the country in Pass Defense!


That's obviously very bad.  This is getting repetitive, so there is just one more graph before we break down the 2009 BYU Defense. 


That's embarrassing for BYU.  115th in the nation!  That's worse than teams like Idaho.  The reason BYU struggled so much on defense is a lack of talent, compounded by injuries.  The reason they struggled so much in what should be favorable situations, is a complete lack of a pass rush coupled with a shaky secondary that can't shoulder the heavy coverage responsibilities that a blitz requires. 

Inside, we'll preview BYU's defense.  Could the FSU 2nd team defense really be better than BYU's starting unit?

Defensive Line

BYU runs the 3-4 defense.  Let's have a look at that alignment:



So BYU uses three defensive linemen. Click the diagram to enlarge

At Left End, BYU has Jan Jorgensen.  We profiled the 6'3" 260lb senior here when we discussed Left Tackle Andrew Datko's slate:

Jorgensen projects as a 2nd round draft choice. The senior has had quite the career. Jorgensen has been named 1st team All-Mountain West Defense for two years in a row. He is the conference's career leader in sacks already. He's a Lombardi and Hendricks award finalist. Oh, and he is 26 years old after serving a three year Mormon mission and redshirting his freshman year. The recent word is that he dropped 10lbs down to 245 in order to be quicker.

At Nose Guard, the cougars return Russel Tialavea.  He's 6'3" 286.  The junior has about 20 starts under his belt and is a decent player. Phil Steele thinks he will be a 2nd team All-Conference selection.  He is not expected to be drafted for the NFL, as he lacks the bulk to play defensive tackle and the quickness to play on the edge.  That said, BYU is very glad to have him, as he actually decided to skip this season to take his LDS mission.  "Somehow", there was a snafu with the paperwork, so he couldn't get approval.  He's now back on the team, and that's huge because the Cougars have literally no quality depth behind him after the backup nose guard left school.

At Right End, BYU returns Brett Denney.  The 6'4" 260lb Senior started all 13 games last year, registering 7 tackles for loss. 

BYU's depth took major hits when both 2nd-team defensive ends left.  Ian Dualan was being counted on to spell Denney, and Bernard Afuiti (a JUCO stud) is academically ineligible- though he should return in 2010.  BYU is very thin on the defensive line.  On the bright side, they do have Matt Putnam who played well at times last year in his end role.

The Cougar starters are good, but not great, and considering their lack of depth, that this unit will rank in the middle to bottom half of defensive lines FSU will face this year.



Remember that BYU uses 4 linebackers (see diagram above).

At Strongside linebacker, the Cougs have Jordan Pendleton.  The 6'2" 228lb sophomore moved from defensive back in the spring, where he made 3 tackles last year.  He's very important as he will be asked to replace the departed All-Conference David Nixon, the MWC's all-time leader in tackles for loss.  Nixon was pretty good.  The other option here is Junior Grant Nelson (6'3" 226), but he is currently injured.  Whoever wins the job, expect a dropoff.  BYU doesn't have the talent to simply plug in someone for the conference's all-time leader in tackles for loss and not miss a beat.

At Middle Linebacker (they use two), is Senior Matt Bauman.  He's scrappy and ultra productive.  Started 14 games in his career, and he's very mentally mature, having graduated high school in 2005, which makes him 22).  He was 2nd team All-Conference last season.  He is regarded as the 29th best draft eligible inside linebacker by NFL Draft Express. 

At "BCB" (the other middle linebacker position), the Cougars have Senior Shawn Doman, who started 10 games last year.  The 6'2" 232lb Senior is a decent player, but he isn't very athletic and can be exploited in coverage.  There is some chance that Terrance Hooks beats our Doman.

At Weakside linebacker is Coleby Clawson, a 6'2" 234lb Senior.  Clawson started 11 games last year after coming from junior college, and registered 55 tackles (11 for loss).  He has to be the cougar's disruptive pass rusher.

Providing depth will be the loser of the Doman-Hooks battle and Vic So'oto, a former tight end who can play defensive end or outside linebacker.  

This is an experienced linebacker unit.  They are assignment sound.  If you're looking for some perspective on their talent level, I'd say they will be somewhere in the middle of the the linebacker units FSU will face.  They will definitely play some games and FSU's offensive line must be alert, as this is a cohesive unit. 

A problem of size

When looking at BYU's front 7, something really jumps out:  they are tiny. 

LE 84 Jan Jorgensen, 6-3, 259, Sr.
NT 71 Russel Tiavaela, 6-3, 286, Sr.
RE 92 Brett Denney, 6-4, 260, Sr.
SLB 1 Jordan Pendleton, 6-2, 228, Soph.
MLB 35 Matt Bauman, 6-1, 229, Sr.
BLB 42 Shawn Doman, 6-2, 232, Sr.
WLB 41 Coleby Clawson, 6-3, 234, Sr.

That's 1728lbs combined in their front 7.  Why does this matter?  For reference, BYU's front 7 is extremely tiny.  TCU outweighs them by 155lbs.

Second, FSU's run game destroys small front 7's.

There are two ways to stop FSU's running game and not get burned by the bubble screen (a pass FSU throws exceptionally well)  Essentially, the bubble screen is a tool to make sure that the offense plays 7 in the box and not 8.  If the defense cheats and brings extra men against the run, we throw the bubble to keep them honest. : 

  1. The first is to have a huge, disciplined front 7, that is difficult to cut block.  One that takes good angles and doesn't allow cutbacks.  This allows teams to play straight upon the receivers, also maintaining deep coverage.  Or...
  2. Play 8 in the box and play zero coverage-press man against each receiver.  Virginia Tech did this and they were eventually burned deep.  This requires excellent athletes in the secondary,

As we'll see in a second, BYU does not have the option to play number two.  They have to hope their front-7 can stop the run.  What did other front 7's do against FSU's run game?

Boston College 1918lbs, 23 rushes, 82 yards.  FSU had the youngest line in the country and they couldn't muster any push against these guys.  The bubble was useless as BC did not need to cheat to stop the run.  They are huge and thankfully their two all-world tackles graduated (1st and 2nd round draft choces)

Wake 1838lbs, 27 rushes for 103 yards.  Wake was very big.They were able to play the bubble straight up, which worked very well.  They also had 4 seniors on defense drafted in the first 4 rounds.

Florida 1835lbs, 29 rushes for 137  Big and supremely talented, our rushing success came primarily in garbage time.

Miami 1785lbs, 54 rushes, 281 yards.  There is a pretty big drop off from UF to Miami (55lbs).  Remember here that our rushing success came primarily on reverses and Ponder running, most of which was a result of Miami's idiotic plan to defense our attack.  We bubbled them to death when they went 8 or 9 in the box.

Georgia Tech 1772lbs (I think they were lighter because of major injuries, correct?).  31 rushes, 228 yards.  Remember that GTech was missing 2 key linebackers and a safety.  Still, this is a big drop in weight from the 3 schools over 1835lbs.

Virginia Tech 1766lbs, 34 rushes, 123 yards.  Poor numbers.  Explanation?  Yes.  VT played 8 in the box and manned up on the wide receivers.  If you're puzzled, remember what happened:  the only thing open was the deep ball.  They saturated the running lanes and pressed FSU's wideouts. Eventually, FSU burned them deep.

Clemson 1760lbs, 34 rushes, 281 yards  Light front 7?  Check.  Depending solely on speed to stop the run?  Check.  Cutbacks?  Check.

NC State 1757lbs, 42 rushes, 162 yards  These numbers aren't amazing, but much of this game was us trying to control the clock while battling holding penalties.  They also include lost sack yardage (which isn't a run play).  Light front 7?  Check.  Depending solely on speed to stop the run?  Check.  Cutbacks?  Check.

Maryland 1755lbs, 41 rushes, 172 yards  Maryland struggled all game in choosing to defend the bubble or the run.

Colorado 1755lbs, 45 rushes, 259 yards  The smallest front we played AND they decided to stop the bubble.  Running wild was the obvious result.

BYU is 27lbs lighter than any front-7 FSU played last season.  Every offensive linemen is back for FSU, and three are All-America candidates (even if 'Nole fans know ther center is overrated).  The 'Nole line is extremely quick and very intelligent.  They will not struggle to block BYU's tiny front -7.  That's important, because some teams do struggle with a 3-4 scheme, but FSU handled it very well last year when Maryland and Colorado went 3-4.  FSU is good against that because their linemen are athletes, not maulers.  They are excellent blockers on the 2nd level (where the linebackers are). 

Expect BYU to start out being patient.  FSU will be able to run the ball on them, and BYU will begin to creep up their safeties and go man coverage with their corners.  That should be interesting...



And here come the questions.  I won't sugar coat this.  BYU's front-7 should be above average.  BYU needs them to be elite, becaus their secondary is a mess.  They must replace 3 starters and their best cover-corner, expected to start, quit the team this off-season.

At Field Corner, BYU has Robbie Buckner and Brian Logan.    Logan is a 5'8" senior who didn't start a game last year, and Buckner is a 5'10" redshirt freshman.  Buckner is probably the better athlete. **Update: Corby Eason, a JC transfer, has actually passed Brian Logan on the depth chart at field corner. Highlights of Eason here. Thanks to sroufe for the info**

At Boundary Corner, BYU has Brandon Bradley.  He's 6'0" 200, a very good athlete, but also very raw.  The Junior made 40 tackles last year, which isn't really something you want to see out of a cornerback.  He's their de-facto best cornerback after Brandon Howard (very good cover corner and a senior) left the team this off-season. 

At Free Safety, BYU has a "returning" starter in Scott Johnson, who actually played corner last year.  The 5'11" 188lb Senior has good range, though he is new to the position.  He was a 10 game starter last season at corner.  BYU is very inexperienced in the secondary, so Johnson will be called upon to be the leader. 

At Strong Safety/ KAT, is 6'3" 215lb Junior Andrew Rich. He did start 3 games last year, registering 26 tackles.  Because BYU's front-7 is so tiny, they have to heavily involve their Strong Safety in the run game.  Rich isn't a special athlete and he's basically a linebacker.  When BYU begins to involve him in the run defense (and they will after FSU runs on the front-7), look for FSU to attack him in coverage.  BYU can't simulate FSU's speed in practice, so that should be interesting.  

BYU's secondary was already quite bad and should take a step back this season.  It's completely reasonable to say that FSU's 2nd-team secondary is better than BYU's starters.  That bodes well for the 'Noles as they practice against their second team.


Final Analysis

BYU's defense isn't very talented.  Their front-7 is experienced, but not deep.  Will they get worn out by FSU's supremely conditioned, talented, and athletic offensive line?  It's doubtful they can stop the run with their front 7, but if they use their big strong safety, they can slow the run.  Then the fun starts.  BYU's 215lb strong safety is obviously not a cover guy.  Will they commit their alignment to stop the run and the bubble screen- leaving their green secondary on an island with FSU's future NFL wideouts, or will they commit their alignment to stop the run and the deep ball, leaving the bubble wide open?  History suggests it is the latter.  BYU's defense is very conservative.  They rarely blitz and try to make the offense move the ball down the field in small chunks.  That didn't work last year, but it's very unlikely that BYU will put their corners on an island unless they get very desperate (which they might).  BYU's defense will probably be a tad better than 81st nationally this year, but there doesn't seem to be many reasons to expect major improvement. 


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