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Posted: 9:17 AM- PROVO - Jan Jorgensen knows as much as anyone that he hasn't had nearly as many sacks this season as he did last year.
But the BYU defensive end isn't panicking. In fact, Jorgensen says he believes he is playing better in his junior year than he did when he was a sophomore and had 13.5 sacks, most in the Mountain West Conference. This year, he has had just five with three games remaining, and he doesn't figure to get any this Saturday against run-oriented Air Force (1:30 p.m., CBS C).
"I know the statistics aren't as good, but our defense is also very different, the way we run things out there," said Jorgensen, a team captain from the city of Helper and Eastern Utah's Carbon High. "I am happy with how I am playing, which in many respects is better than last year."
His coaches agree.
"He is down in and down out playing at a much higher level, and he is playing more physically than he ever has," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "Also, he is still generating enough pressure on the quarterback to help us, even if the sacks aren't there."
With two sacks against Colorado State two weeks ago, Jorgensen became the Mountain West Conference's all-time career sack leader with 22.5. However, he acknowledges that TCU's Jerry Hughes, a junior, and Utah's Paul Kruger, a sophomore, might pass him next year or the year after, in the case of Kruger.
"I am getting a lot more attention this year than I did last year, from opposing offenses," Jorgensen said. "Quarterbacks are doing a really good job of getting rid of the ball fast and [they] are not just sitting back there in the pocket, they are getting back there and throwing it quickly."
Mendenhall said he has met twice this season with the All-America candidate to assure him that coaches are pleased with his play. Jorgensen has been asked to be more responsible for stopping the run and guarding the gaps this season.
He's also shadowing offensive linemen more in "read and react" situations, rather than just working to get upfield and into the quarterback's face.
"We have seen [pass] protection being slid to him, and a little more focus being put on him, which certainly would make it more difficult for him to at least have the sack numbers," Mendenhall said. "That's not really the way that I gauge how well he is playing. In my opinion, he is playing at a higher level."
Defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi said the depth at defensive line this year - Brett Denney, Russell Tialavea, Ian Dulan and Mosese Foketi have also seen lots of action - has enabled him to rotate more linemen in. Consequently, Jorgensen is probably not getting as many plays and opportunities for sacks as he did last year.
"Jan is playing great football this year," Kaufusi said. "It is because of hard work. He is just the epitome of hard work, and he has a great sense for the game. If he continues to work, and I am sure he will he has a chance [to play] in the NFL. But you never know what those guys look for."
As BYU's defense has struggled to stop some opponents this year, Jorgensen has acknowledged that he has felt pressure to be more of a playmaker. But he believes sticking to the game plan that the coaches have installed will work out in the long run.
"When the defense is struggling you always want to do what you can to help it, and so I have felt a little bit of extra pressure, an obligation to get out there and make plays and try to get that defense going and get it at the top of its game."
Indeed, Jorgensen's tackles, 42, are on pace to come close to what they were last year, and he has 11 quarterback hurries, after getting just five last year.
"Everybody has to do his assignment, do what he is supposed to do," he said. "And if we do that, we will be fine."