BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall may have made some questionable decisions over the years when it comes to assembling his staff and managing games, but his current choice of a defensive coordinator is certainly sound.
Yes, in this regard, Mendenhall is making himself look very good.
His defense extended its consistent, aggressive play Friday night in a 47-0 win over Hawaii at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Amid some tough losses, offensive inconsistency and quarterbacking controversy as September ends, the defense is the one constant in BYU's season. Even with quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams ripping through Hawaii's horrible defense all night, it remained clear that BYU's defense will have to carry this team through a demanding October schedule of Utah State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
An exciting brand of defense may not quite reflect BYU's football tradition or justify ESPN's interest in the program, but it sure is keeping the Cougars competitive this season.
"This is the most fun I've ever had playing football, and I think most of the guys would agree," said BYU safety Daniel Sorensen. "It comes down to the enthusiasm that our coach shows and the hard work that we put in."
The defensive performance certainly wore out the Warriors. Hawaii coach Norm Chow beat most of his players off the field after the game, sighing deeply as he walked into the locker room.
"Very disappointing," Chow said.
In being shut out for the first time since 1998, the Warriors converted only 1 of 12 third-down plays. "Pitiful, to say the least," summarized quarterback Sean Schroeder.
Chow focused on his own team's ineffectiveness, saying, "It's about us … the lack of ability to move the ball on offense. It's got nothing to do with them."
Obviously, BYU's defense did have something to do with Hawaii's struggles. "Very talented group," Schroeder said. "They're a mature group, very aggressive. We thought we were going to have some success running the ball and throwing the ball downfield. We weren't able to do either."
Hawaii posted only 149 total yards including minus-3 yards in the third quarter as the Cougars held an 11th consecutive opponent to less than 300 yards. BYU entered the contest having allowed an average of 246 yards through four games, ranking No. 7 in the country. The Cougars likely will move into the top five after this weekend's play.
Sorensen's interception and linebacker Brandon Ogletree's stop on a third-and-1 running play ended Hawaii's somewhat promising first two drives, then the Warriors struggled for the rest of the first half.
To begin the second half, linebacker Kyle Van Noy forced a Schroeder fumble that Spencer Hadley recovered at the 2-yard line, leading to a Cougar touchdown. Later in the quarter, Preston Hadley blitzed and created another fumble (recovered by Bronson Kaufusi) that the BYU offense turned into points.
The Cougars have allowed a total of 50 points in five games, including 14 scored by the opposing defense. BYU's defense had gone two games without a takeaway, but produced an interception and two fumble recoveries. No opposing offense has scored against BYU since the third quarter of its loss at Utah two weeks ago.
Oregon State, a 38-28 loser to BYU in mid-October of 2011, is the last Cougar opponent to register 300 total yards.
Mendenhall originally acted as his own defensive coordinator when he became the head coach in 2005. He later promoted secondary coach Jaime Hill to that position, but Mendenhall assumed the job again when he fired Hill after a loss to Utah State in October 2010. Since then, the Cougars are 19-7 and the defense has been overwhelmed only in the fourth quarter of last season's 54-10 loss to Utah when Chow was coordinating the Utes' offense.
Chow also was shut out in 2008 when he visited Provo as UCLA's offensive coordinator in a 59-0 loss to BYU.
During the first quarter, the Warriors had two defensive players taken to a hospital to have X-rays (negative) for possible neck injuries. Hawaii also lost two offensive linemen in the game. "We're hurting pretty good," said Chow, while avoiding any excuses for his team's performance.
"We're just going to go back to work on Monday," Chow said. "Nothing else we can do. … We've got to grow up. This is a big-boy business. Nobody is feeling sorry for us. We can't feel sorry for ourselves."
The good news is, Hawaii won't be facing a defense like BYU's for a long time.