Defense doesn’t normally come to mind when one thinks of Brigham Young University, but this year TCU is not the only team with an imposing defense.
In addition to all-American candidate Max Hall leading the potent offensive attack, the Cougars have the novelty of a top defense. BYU ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, allowing a paltry 10.2 points per game, including back-to-back shutouts of University of California-Los Angeles and Wyoming. It would be unfair to classify either of those teams as offensive juggernauts.
Against the University of Washington, the Cougars had trouble keeping up with Husky and one-time Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Jake Locker. In its last four games, BYU has managed to hold its opponents to just over one point per quarter (17 points in 16 quarters), a total that includes two garbage-time touchdowns from Utah State University.
The Cougars have had trouble this season when matching up against mobile quarterbacks, but in the words of BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, employ a “bend don’t break” method of defense.
BYU is willing to give up a few yards here and there without allowing the offense to get any big plays over the defense’s head. BYU’s defense then tightens as opponents approach the goal line.
Thursday’s match up will likely come down to each team’s defense.
TCU ranks near the top nationally in nearly every statistical category, including leading the nation in total defense and rushing yards allowed. The Horned Frogs have superior athletes to the Cougars, but the game will be decided by which team is able to execute it schemes. The match-up will boil down to BYU’s execution versus TCU’s athleticism.
BYU’s defense may have been overlooked in the past, but against TCU they will be able to slow the at times ineffective Horned Frog offensive attack. BYU can force turnovers as well as any team in the country and, if last week’s game against Colorado State is any indicator, TCU has some trouble holding onto the ball.
The Cougar offense will have to execute by establishing the run and attacking the Horned Frogs’ defense through the air. In TCU’s lone loss of the season, the University of Oklahoma was able to effectively throw the ball. BYU won’t line up the athletes the Sooners did, but Hall and Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford are comparable as signal callers. Bradford rolled up 411 yards and four touchdowns against a normally stout Horned Frog defense. Three of Bradford’s touchdowns were longer than 50 yards.
Hall has his own deep threat in BYU junior wide receiver Austin Collie, who has gained more than one hundred yards receiving in each of four consecutive contests.
BYU’s offense doesn’t allow other teams to focus too much on Collie with so many other weapons in their arsenal. Fellow wide receiver Michael Reed is Hall’s most reliable third down target. Tight end Dennis Pitta is one of the country’s best and should be able to control the middle of the field. Sophomore running back Harvey Unga is a weapon carrying the ball, as well as coming out of the backfield as a receiver.
TCU will have to pick their poison and hope no one Cougar can take over the game.
Coach Gary Patterson was probably right when he said the team that is able to stop the other last will win the game. Don’t underestimate BYU’s ability to step up and make important stops when the game is on the line. Defensive end Jan Jorgensen knows all about that.
Justin Crandall is the football beat writer for the BYU Daily Universe.