Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars head to Provo, UT to take on BYU on the opening day of the 2012 college football season. The entire nation is eager to see the former Texas Tech coach, who led some of the most prolific offenses in NCAA history, back in action.
BYU does not have a defensive coordinator, as head coach Bronco Mendenhall appointed himself in the position after firing Jaime Hill in 2010. Hill was named the coordinator in 2008 and defense was awful his first year, finishing 84th in S&P (What's that?). The defenses showed massive improvement over the next year, as they finished 30th in 2009. Hill was fired in 2010 after the Cougars started the season 1-4. They finished that year ranked 25th in S&P.
Interesting enough, BYU finished 80th in offensive S&P, so it appears the blame was directed in the wrong direction. But someone has to get fired when the head coach's butt is on the line, right?
The Bronco-led defense didn't really improve, but it did sustain the success of the defense under Hill. BYU finished 29th in S&P a season ago. At least Brigham Young is saving some money.
Even with Mendenhall pulling double-duty, the BYU defense will provide a challenge for the Cougs in their first game in the Air Raid offense.
The good news is that BYU specialized in run defense a season ago. They were 18th overall in rushing S&P and 64th in passing. The front seven is the strength of the group. With that, the preview starts with the DBs.
The Cougars return half of their starting secondary from a season ago, and according to Vanquish The Foe, one of the new guys will outperform his predecessor:
The first word out of fall camp was an unequivocal "Jordan Johnson is the best corner cover in the program." This is good news. Eason was reliable in the short game and in run support, but seemed to get beat deep more often than is desired. Johnson seemed capable in limited time last year as a freshman. As long as his abilities translate to game day, this will be a position upgrade.
Sorensen is the kat (strong) safety. He was second on the team in tackles a season ago, amassing 61 to go along two interceptions (INT), two tackles-for-loss (TFL) and six pass breakups (PBU). He played in all 13 games for BYU and also had a interception returned for a touchown.
Hadley, a senior cornerback, put up 51 tackles, with 2.5 TFL and 14 PBU. Sampson recorded 23 tackles, an interception, five TFL, 3 PBU, and a fumble return for a touchdown in 2011.
Overall, the secondary was not a ball-hawking group. Defensive backs had just eight interceptions, with three coming from the departing Uale. Johnson seems to be the best bet to pick off a pass, as he had two INTs in a limited role last year.
For a preview of the linebackers and defensive line, click the jump.
Just like WSU will this year, BYU has run a 3-4 defense under Mendenhall. The blue Cougars lost one of the starters to graduation in Jordan Pendleton. He was talented but missed many games throughout his career.
Pendleton's replacement will be Spencer Hadley. The junior from Connell, Wash. received plenty of playing time a season ago, so he is not untested. Hadley recorded 45 tackles, 1.5 TFL, and an interception.
The most intriguing part of Hadley is that he is only 6'1. Connell is full of giants and he would probably be considered a short guy there.
Van Noy was the most productive of the group from a statistical standpoint. He tallied 68 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions, and 15 TFL overall. He also came through with a fumble return for a touchdown.
Kaveinga had 57 tackles, 4.5 TFL, and forced four fumbles in 2011. Ogletree led the team in tackles with 76, adding four TFL, an interception, and two fumbles forced.
As is typical with the 3-4, the linebackers for BYU will be the ones chasing Jeff Tuel in the backfield most often. The LBs accounted for 16.5 of Brigham Young's 23 sacks last season. They were also responsible for 46.5 of the team's 77 TFL. Expect to see this group flying all over the field on Thursday night.
Nose Tackle Hebron Fangupo is the lone departing member of the defensive line. He was a load in the middle at 331 pounds. Fangupo will be replaced by Romney Fuga, who had lots of playing time in 2011. Fuga is not quite as big, but is still a large human being at 6'2, 318 pounds.
The end positions will be manned primarily by seniors Eathyn Manumaleuna and Ian Dulan. Manumaleuna didn't record a TFL last year, so don't expect him to spending much time in the backfield. Best guess is that he is charged with occupying blockers so others can run free.
Dulan is the smaller rush-end. He hasn't played since 2008, as he left for his mission after his junior year. He recorded 20 tackles, three sacks, and four QB hurries the last season he saw the field.
Expect Manumaleuna and Fuga to pose some problems on the front. Their size will allow them to occupy more than one blocker at once, allowing for the back-end defenders to make plays. This might be where Leach's line splits become valuable, as it will be hard for the fat dudes to just clog up the middle like they want to.
The BYU defense will be a good challenge for Leach's offense out of the gate. It is full of upperclassmen who have a lot of game experience. They didn't lose a ton from a solid group in 2011, and they should be around the top 30 in S&P once again.
For more on the BYU Cougars, visit their excellent SB Nation site, Vanquish The Foe (with the best tagline ever). Depth Chart information viaDeseret News. Statistics come from Football Study Hall, Football Outsiders, and cfbstats.com.