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Provo » BYU's defense is slow, on the small side, and lacks athleticism in key positions.
It is a criticism, warranted or not, that has dogged the Cougars most of the last two seasons, especially after games against TCU (twice), Florida State and Utah in which the defense's lack of speed, seemingly, has led to one big offensive play after another.
Some say that because of the type of players BYU recruits in the Bronco Mendenhall era, it will always be that way.
But when the Cougars take on Air Force on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, they will see a defense that somehow is getting the job done with similar players.
"I think just the culture of the academy is hard-nosed, no letdown, grind it out to the end, hardworking type of people, so in that regard I think it is very similar [to BYU's defensive players]," said BYU linebacker Matt Bauman.
Air Force held TCU to 20 points and Utah to 16 (in regulation) in close losses earlier this season, and is ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 127.91 yards per game. Aided by a clock-eating offense, the Falcons are No. 7 in total defense, yielding 265.3 ypg.
By comparison, BYU is 78th in the country in pass defense and 35th in defense.
How has Air Force, with all its recruiting restrictions and tough academic standards, been able to forge a strong defense when BYU has not?
"I think just chemistry," Mendenhall said. "They have come together, and done a real nice job. ... Sometimes you have the right chemistry, the right playmakers, and the right schedule. And they also do a really nice job because their offense holds on to the ball so long that their defense is able to, when they are playing so confidently, maybe not play as many snaps and keep the points down."
Mendenhall said this AFA defense -- its strengths are defensive backs Anthony Wright, Jr., Chris Thomas, Reggie Rembert and Jon Davis -- is the team's best defense in the 10 years he has coached against them. BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae concurs.
BYU's defense was ranked higher nationally when the Cougars won conference titles in 2006 and 2007, and some say it is because they had better, faster and more athletic linebackers. Guys such as Cameron Jensen, Bryan Kehl, Kelly Poppinga and David Nixon were some of the best LBs in school history.
"Ultimately, you have to have the tools," Bauman said. "You have to have competitive speed, and you have to have competitive strength. But I don't think you have to be the fastest or the strongest -- because no one on our defense is. That said, defense is a very mental game. As long as you put in the time and put in the work, and watch the film to know what they are doing, I feel like you can use that to overcome other things.
" I think with the culture of our defense -- hard work, discipline, being assignment sound -- makes up for where we might be short there."
Mendenhall is fond of saying defense is a collective effort, and requires good effort from all 11 guys, but he acknowledges AFA's athletic, fast secondary is a big reason for the Falcons' success.
"This particular year, I think their secondary has really nice athleticism, really kind of a keen sense for where the ball is going. And where it fits into their scheme. They can kind of bait one throw and take another one away," he said. "Right now, I think both their corners are playing really well. Air Force uses a collective approach defensively ... to kind of make the most with the type of athletes they have, and the type of individuals."
|Third-down conversion def.||28.39%||5th||2nd|
|Pass efficiency defense||98.88||10th||2nd|
Saturday 1:30 p.m.
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