BYU senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree said after football practice on Tuesday he hadn't really considered the fact that he’s the leading tackler on one of the top five defenses in the country.
"I’d never thought about that before but it’s cool and it’s a lot of fun," Ogletree said.
The senior has tallied 42 total tackles in five games and is well on his way to matching his 2011 total of 144 tackles. He's proven to be a huge presence in the middle for the Cougars, but he simply says that's the way it should be.
"In a 3-4, I think the buck and the mike linebackers should be making the bulk of the tackles, especially the mike," Ogletree explained. "In college football, the ball to the field side so much. But our defensive line does such a good job keeping blockers from climbing to us that we can really run and make plays. I think that’s the main thing that lets me get a lot of tackles."
BYU junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy feels the same way about the success he’s had, saying he's just been in the right spot to make some plays.
"I try to prepare myself at a high level every week and try to help out the team in the best way possible," Van Noy said. "I let the other guys do their job and I do mine, and somehow I get lucky out of the bunch sometimes."
The play of those two linebackers is one of the reasons the BYU defense is only giving up 226.6 yards per game, No. 5 in the nation, and only 63.2 rushing yards per game, second in the country and less than a yard behind Rutgers (62.5 rushing yards per game) for the top spot.
"I’m proud of them for that at this point," said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I’m anxious for it to continue."
The Cougar linebackers said they knew the team should be very good defensively and they are just showing the level they can play at.
"I don’t know if I’m surprised but we’re pleased with the shutouts we’ve had," Ogletree said. "That is pretty uncommon. Anytime you can shut a team out that means there is no huge breakdowns, which is a really good thing. Coming into the season we were really confident. We knew we were going to be good but we just didn’t know how good — and I think we still don’t know how good we are going to be."
Van Noy has created a lot of mayhem for opposing offenses, tallying a team-high 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss.
His performance has drawn the attention of national commentators, as had the play of senior defensive lineman Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
"Watching tape on BYU DL Ansah #47," said ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay on Twitter. “From Ghana, didn’t play FB till 2010. Raw talent! Rare burst for 280lbs. Thanks Rod Gilmore for the tip... #3 OLB Van Noy is pretty darn good too. Mendenhall has the Cougars playing some nasty D!”
Van Noy is quick to brush such comments aside, saying he doesn't spend any time wondering what people are saying.
"I try to not pay attention to it," he said. "You are going to hear all sorts of speculations but at the end of the day, you have to do your job and you have to do it well."
BYU senior quarterback Riley Nelson faced off against the Cougar defense during spring and fall camp, so he said he isn't surprised at all at how well BYU is doing in that aspect of the game.
"They are led by Coach Mendenhall, who I love and respect and admire," he said. "He’s a great coach and our players have all bought in. That’s what happens when people buy in, so I’m not surprised."
Mendenhall said there is a personal sense of accomplishment in his role as defensive coordinator in watching his player perform at a high level like they did against Hawaii.
"I take great pride in it," he said. "It’s what I like to do. There are a lot of things being a head coach that maybe I’m not as much suited to but I like coaching defense. I like coaching football, actually being in the room and with the players, sharing in their joys and successes. It reminds you why you are coaching."
Even though the numbers to this point have been impressive, the defense still sees plenty it can do better.
“We practice really hard and practice to get better,” Van Noy said. “It’s only the middle of the season. It’s not done yet. When the end results come out, then we can start talking about Top 5 defense and that stuff. Now we’re just trying to get better every day.”
As Nelson’s world turns: All eyes are on the Cougar senior quarterback, wondering whether he will be ready to play for Friday night’s game against Utah State (8:15 p.m., ESPN).
Mendenhall said after practice Tuesday that the quarterback repetitions were split more evenly between Nelson and freshman Taysom Hill, mostly to see how Nelson was coming.
Nelson said he’s feeling a lot better, which might be an indication of who will start.
“I felt strong,” Nelson said. “The ball felt good coming out of my hands, my mind felt sharp like I was recognizing defenses well, and I felt comfortable with the game plan.”
Two players likely out: The Cougars will be missing a pair of players for the game against the Aggies. Senior safety Mike Hague’s calf injury will once again keep him out.
“Hopefully we’ll have him back for next week, but that will be close as well,” Mendenhall said. “We miss him, especially nickel-wise.”
Mendenhall also said linebacker Zac Stout suffered a setback with an Achilles injury and most likely will be out for Friday’s contest.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.