The Conversation: talking FSU @ BYU with VanquishTheFoe.com

This week's guests are  Zac and Adam of ,VanquishTheFoe.com your source for the best coverage of BYU Sports.

There was so many great questions this week.  

Waylon Jennings & Hank Williams Jr - The Conversation (via Slasheri)

There's a story behind the clip.  People said we needed to use more youtube clips.  I happen to like Waylon and when you type "the conversation" into youtube, this is what you get.  

Inside, you'll find our conversation with Zac and Adam as they discusses the 7th ranked BYU Cougars.

1. Your Defensive Line has played better than I expected, how do you see them matching up with FSU in running situations? Who has surprised you on the defensive line?

z:  Of all the positions on BYU's defense going into the year, the line was the proven bright spot. We knew they would be good, but we'd be lying if we said we knew they'd be so good as to outperform Oklahoma and Tulane the way they did. BYU's front seven, including their front three, are very quick, athletic and aggressive. By basing what they've done the first two games we can safely assume BYU should have success stopping the run. However, in the past, BYU has had trouble dealing with mobile quarterbacks, whether that's scheme issues or personnel, we don't know. This year's defense has proven to be far more faster, athletic and aggressive compared to what BYU typically fields.

A:  Though BYU's defense was generally mediocre in 2008, its strongest area was the defensive line. Since Mendenhall was introduced as the program's defensive coordinator in 2003 the Cougars have almost exclusively stuck with a 3-4 scheme. Nothing has changed since the defensive play-calling was handed over to Jaime Hill. So, of the three starters on this season's defensive line, all of them are experienced seniors. As is usual for most if not all positions in NCAA football, by the time a D-lineman is a senior you pretty much know what you're getting.
The obvious leader and most-heralded player on BYU's D-line is DE Jan Jorgensen. In two games thus far Jorgensen leads all Cougar D-lineman in tackles with 6. However, he still does not have a sack - though he has come close several times, particularly against Tulane last Saturday. As the media has mentioned quite a bit, Jorgensen is the MWC's all-time leader with 22.5 sacks. Jorgensen is a solid athlete and should be drafted into the NFL next April. He's pretty versatile, playing DE on either side and even blocked a FG to beat Washington last season. Of all BYU's defensive lineman he's the one you should probably be the most familiar with going into Saturday's contest.

The other two starting seniors on BYU's D-line are DE Brett Denney and DT Russell Tialavea. Both are solid and started last season. Denney has two older brothers playing in the NFL - Ryan (DE - Bills) and John (Long-snapper - Dolphins). Denney doesn't have the stats that Jorgensen does but he is versatile also, switching between the left and right sides. He led the team in fumble recoveries last season and already has one this year. What Denney lacks in athleticism he makes up for in brains. (He was heavily recruited by Harvard and Stanford.) Tialavea started 7 games as a true freshman but had a knee injury that cost him his sophomore season. He's a better than average nose tackle and is solid in running/short-yardage situations.

I'll also drop the names of Vic So'oto, Matt Putnam, and Romney Fuga just because they should see some action on Saturday. Overall, though BYU's defensive line hasn't changed too much from last season. There isn't one particular player that has surprised. Like I said before, the starters are all seniors so we've had a good idea of what to expect from them. The key to stopping the run against OU and Tulane wasn't anything spectacular from the D-line. They just played consistently and I think their experience out worked OU's younger O-linemen a bit. They don't make a lot of mistakes. The key to the defense's success this season has been a dramatically improved secondary, a more explosive linebacking core led by Terrance Hooks, and a smart defensive line.
As far a BYU's ability to stop FSU's running attack specifically?

BYU did a respectable job against OU. RB's Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray combined for 117 yards on 24 carries (4.9.carry) but neither were able to break out any big runs. The longest was a 14 yarder by Brown. The Sooners also finished 2 for 11 on 3rd down. Tulane rushed for only 37 yards total against the Cougars - and they're primary back, Andre Anderson, ran for over 800 yards last season in just 7 games.
Ty Jones appears to be a very solid back, though mostly unproven. From what I can tell, on the outside looking in, he has a bright future in Tallahassee. However, I don't think right now he is better than any of the three running backs I mentioned above. What he does have to his advantage though is a much superior O-line than Tulane and an excellent, experienced QB. I think Jones can average over 4 yards a carry on Saturday but the Cougars have exhibited superb 3rd down and short defense thus far in 2009.

 

2. Last year BYU's defense got torched by teams that made BYU defend a mobile QB (even if they chose not to run that QB), like TCU and Utah (and to a lesser extent Washington). Do you think BYU will improve against teams forcing BYU to defend the zone read and option plays? If so, why?

I think the major reason why BYU got torched by these schools you mentioned is because they lacked team speed. BYU's defense last year was very slow and very unaggressive (probably a consequence of being slow). They simply didn't have the personnel to compete with fast teams. This was a major point of emphasis in recruiting this offseason, especially at cornerback and safety. By having speedy backs and safeties, it allows your front seven to mix things up and play aggressively, which is exactly what BYU has been able to do so far this season.

As for option plays, BYU has traditionally been very good at defending the option, most likely because they've had to face one of the nation's most effective option games each year in Air Force.

It's hard to say because the QB's BYU has defended so far have not been mobile/multi-threats - at least not in the mold of Utah's Brian Johnson or Washington's Jake Locker. And while Ponder really scares me, and I'm sure Mendenhall and his staff as well, I do think BYU has improved in this area. Here's why:

1.  BYU's secondary is much better in terms of experience and especially athleticism. Last season's starting BC has moved to FS - Scott Johnson. (However, he suffered a concussion last week and is currently listed as "possible" for Saturday's game.) Johnson is simply a smart player, kind of like Denney on the D-line. He isn't going to impress you athletically but he always seems to make big plays. If he isn't ready to go, BYU will start Shiloah Te'o or Craig Bills. Both of those guys are more athletic than Johnson, they just lack his experience. Bills in particular was heavily recruited and has already shown flashes of brilliance.
At Kat Safety, Andrew Rich is a returning starter and was the MWC defensive player of the week following the Oklahoma win. All Rich does is hit really, really hard. He's forced two fumbles already in 2009 and has recorded 7 tackles.

At corner is where BYU has made the biggest strides on defense. Three JUCO transfers have helped improve the athleticism dramatically. Don't laugh or take this the wrong way - but they're finally not all white Mormon guys. Brian Logan has been especially impressive and had a big interception against Tulane. Both he and Brandon Bradley did a fantastic job against OU's big, athletic receivers in single-coverage down field. (Wow. I can't believe I wrote that about BYU DB's.)

I think this could be BYU's best defensive secondary this decade. For the first time in several years Mendenhall and Hill can trust the corners enough to send the safeties (and LB's) on blitzes that have disrupted OU's short-passing game, halted Tulane's trick plays, and generally been able to zone read much more efficiently than a year ago.

2.  Terrance Hooks and Jordan Pendleton are both athletic freaks. Last season the only player on BYU's defense you would probably say that about was David Nixon. Pendleton is just a sophomore and the OU game was his first start. The other LB's - Matt Bauman, Grant Nelson, Shawn Doman and Coleby Clawson - are disciplined and experienced. Nelson and Doman had great games against the Green Wave and Clawson is the one that knocked out Sam Bradford. Bauman was BYU's leading tackler in 2008. In short, other than maybe Hooks and Pendleton these guys aren't going to wow anybody either (Sound familiar? See: Denney, Johnson, Rich...). But they are proving to be extremely proficient so far this season at reading plays. We'll see how they do against Ponder, with his ability to run - and with a very nice weapon in Caz Piurowski (easily the best TE the Cougars have seen so far because of Jermaine Gresham's injury).

 

3. Do you consider FSU a key game like Utah and TCU, or is FSU looked at a lower level team in the eye of most BYU fans?

Z:  FSU is a key game and it's being treated as such. The fans, the players and the coaches are all extremely excited for this game, and we know if we win, it's one step closer to an undefeated season. Given FSU's history and BCS acclaim, it's impossible for a mid-major to see them as "lower level"...a win against FSU on Saturday and BYU's looking extremely good.

However, TCU and Utah are more important to us. Utah, because of the rivalry (we literally hate each other) and their in the conference, and TCU because they're in the conference and they beat us last year. We win those two games and we'll be conference champions and headed to a BCS bowl.

A:  In terms of general fandom, FSU ranks probably third behind the games against Utah and Oklahoma. Obviously the TCU game is just as critical, if not the most critical now, but the Frogs are seen every year and don't carry name recognition like the Seminoles. Those unfamiliar with the MWC though might be somewhat unaware how big the Utah-BYU rivalry game is in Utah. I'd argue it's every bit as big as any other college football rivalry out west. So that game is number one for BYU fans even if their non-conference schedule included a school like USC.

FSU, even after its disappointing start, is definitely not seen as a lower-level team. BYU fans are highly familiar with legendary coaches and are very excited about having Bobby Bowden and his team come to Provo. It isn't every season that a program with as much tradition and influence as Florida State comes to BYU. Anyone who knows anything in Provo understands that if BYU is ever going to attain national respect and/or lasting recognition they have to win against programs like FSU. This is a major game for the Cougars: it was before the season and still is despite the occurrences of the past two weeks. If BYU wants any hope of going to a BCS Bowl they have to beat the Seminoles. I think most fans comprehend this - they know that Florida State isn't a regular opponent coming to town. If the Cougars can beat FSU it will be a big, big deal for the program - and the fans.

 

4. Oklahoma's offensive line was very young, and OU's offense committed 11 penalties alone, for about 100 yards. It seemed from watching the film that OU was shooting themselves in the foot over and over again, putting themselves in disadvantageous situations rather than BYU putting them into those spots (of 28 1st down plays, only 3 were stopped for negative yardage).  I wrote about this pretty extensively here.  Do you feel that BYU's can beat a good offensive team if the other team doesn't self-destruct? The thinking being that every team should defend 3rd and long well. It is getting the opposing offense to 3rd and long that is difficult.

Z:  This is a great question, and the best answer is: we'll see. Penalties are part of the game, and so even though Oklahoma "self-destructed" BYU still had to make the plays to keep OU from getting first downs and scoring. I think where you saw BYU's strength was that first-and-goal stand against OU where BYU denied them a touchdown from the 1-yard line on 5 consecutive plays.

Where BYU's defense remains unproven is the long pass play-that's the one pressing question I have about this year's defense.

A;  I'm going to go with the short answer here. Yes, of course. I don't think that BYU's defense is going to be Top-10 this season, or even Top-25 for that matter (Though I'd love to be proved wrong...). However, I do believe the Cougars' defense is legitimately improved from last season. Do I think BYU will hold the Seminoles to 13 like OU? No. I can't reasonably expect a well coached team like FSU to make enough errors to qualify for "self-destruction." But I can reasonably expect BYU's defense to hold Ponder and Co. sufficiently to beat them in Provo because BYU's offense is so talented and experienced. We'll see.

 

5. BYU seems to be pretty multiple on offense, lining up in two tight end-two back sets, and also running 5 wide receivers.  What do you expect to see from BYU on Saturday, a smashmouth, ball control, play-action approach, or a wide open, put the game in max Hall's hands approach?

Z:  Both. BYU is effective when they can run the ball and pass the ball. When BYU becomes one-dimensional they are very beatable, as we saw last year with TCU and Utah. Still, if it wasn't for Max Hall self-destructing and single-handedly losing those game for BYU they could have won.

For Saturday's game I expect BYU to try and establish the run early and then open it up in the air. The difficulty is stopping BYU's offense is that if a defense keys on one guy, there is literally four other guys who can break down the defense on any given play. Hall prides himself on making completions to at least 10 receivers/backs every game. They're extremely versatile and efficient.

A;  Umm...both, but more of the latter. Mendenhall and Robert Anae are prepared to live or die by Max Hall. They feel that Hall has learned from last season's mistakes and is capable enough to depend on tremendously. While Hall lost his main offensive target from last season (Austin Collie) there are enough playmakers that the QB has more options than ever in his career at the Y.

Of course, Harvey Unga has hardly played so far this season and he was projected to be Hall's primary weapon on offense. Unga has rushed for over 1,000 the past two seasons. He is big enough to play "smash-mouth" but is also very capable of catching passes out of the backfield. Unga is expected to play Saturday but Bryan Kariya and J.J. DiLuigi have performed very well in his stead.

Expect Hall to lineup in the shotgun quite a bit. You will see the two TE, two RB sets you mentioned. Dennis Pitta and Andrew George are each terrific TE's. Pitta specifically opens up the deep passing game for McKay Jacobson and O'Neill Chambers (Floridian).

Thanks again, Zac and Adam!  Make sure to head over to VanquishTheFoe.com later today to see our answers to their questions.

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