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You gotta love BYU linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga's frankness. Tuesday, the former Cougar star was asked how good East Carolina's offense is, and he decided to rank the Pirates' attack among teams BYU has played.
"I would say it is the second-best offense we have faced up to this point. Well, third-best. I probably would rank UCLA, Michigan and then these guys," Poppinga said. "I think they are better than Boise State on offense. They have more weapons. They have a really good quarterback that can both run it and throw it in No. 11, [James] Summers."
Poppinga also said junior Isaiah Jones (he called him No. 7) is "probably the best [receiver] we have seen so far this year, and senior Bryce Williams (No. 80) "is by far the best tight end we've seen this year. I think he is really good."
Poppinga also said that junior Blake Kemp, who is more of a pocket passer, "can really throw it." ECU coach Ruffin McNeil has not said whether Kemp or Summers will start against the Cougars, but both will play. Kemp started the last two games, but Summers came on in relief and was sensational in wins over Virginia Tech and SMU.
"So they are a good team, a really good team. It is going to be a good challenge for our guys, especially against the scheme that we struggled with earlier in the season against UCLA," Poppinga said. "It is very similar to UCLA very similar in the run game. I don't think their back is as good as UCLA's [Paul Perkins], but he is pretty good. So it is going to be a good challenge for our guys to see if we have been able to make the corrections we needed to against UCLA after that game … .So it is going to be like playing our offense as if Taysom [Hill] was the quarterback, that type of quarterback run game. So it is a challenge for our guys."
Poppinga said his players aren't fooled because ECU is not a big-name program like what the Cougars faced in September.
"I think it is pretty simple. You turn on the film and they are dang good," he said. "We watched probably 30-50 clips of these guys this morning, and it caught their attention real quick as to how good these guys are. So, yeah, they don't have the Michigan name, or the Nebraska name, or Boise State, or whatever, but like I said before, I think this is the third best offense we have played up to this point this season. And it is going to be a great challenge for our guys, a great opportunity."
BYU's defense held UConn to 230 yards a season low for an opponent but isn't scaring anybody in the national rankings. However, the Cougars are tied for seventh in interceptions, with nine. Boise State leads that category, with 11.
The Cougars have been decent at getting off the field they rank 36th in third-down conversion defense at 31.8 percent (21 of 66).
"You don't get to third down unless you play well on first and second down," coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday. "We are making inroads on that. I am pretty comfortable that when we get to third we have answers and can create confusion and pressure and indecisiveness at the quarterback position, no matter who it is. So, we are getting there more often, now, and we are playing better once we are there. That usually gives us a great chance to keep the points where they need to be."
Mendenhall said the defense is making progress. Tuesday, Poppinga detailed what worked against the Huskies.
"I thought as a whole we were more assignment-sound," he said. "I thought we played the run really well, except for that one run [by RB] Arkeel Newsome] that got outside. It is just something that we have to continue to work on. Our corner got out-leveraged and I think they went for 20 or 30.
Besides that, they didn't run the ball on us at all. So, really pleased with the way we played the run against them. That is what they pride themselves on, so to be able to do that and stop the run, we were really pleased with that.
I thought we got after the quarterback really well. I thought our DBs covered really well. Just in general, though we were more assignment-sound. We executed better. I thought we tackled better in general. All were improvements.
I thought we got better, took a step forward and are now ready for another opportunity against a really good opponent this week."
Poppinga said linebacker Harvey Langi was "running around" at practice Tuesday morning and is getting "pretty close" to playing after missing the UConn game.
"But yeah, we feel like guys our getting healthy, and for the most part we got what we want on defense, so I feel we are getting back to full strength on defense that we haven't had since Nebraska [when nose tackle Travis Tuiloma left the game with a knee injury, yet to return]."
Poppinga compared Langi to the great Brandon Ogletree, whom he said was the best "energy defender" that he has ever coached.
"Really, that defense, you look at that 2012 defense when [Ogletree] was a senior, a lot of that personality of that defense was because of Brandon Ogletree and the passion and energy he brought to the team.
You are seeing that right now with Harvey. The characteristic of this team has taken hold of how hard Harvey plays. When he is out there, the energy level is picked up. Obviously, not having him out there, I think is why the energy level was a little low [vs. UConn]. He is one of our leaders and a guy who brings our energy and passion wasn't there."