Stop signs: Getting off the field a priority for BYU football defense in 2022
BYU’s returning defensive players were asked many, many questions during Media Day, but there was one question they were particularly grumpy about answering: “How are you going to get off the field faster in 2022?”
There were plenty of injuries to key players on defense last season, but a consistent problem for the that side of the ball was allowing long, time-consuming drives. It was a two-fold problem, tiring out the defense and keeping the Cougars high-powered offense on the sideline.
“We need to tackle the guy with the ball on the line of scrimmage,” BYU defensive end Tyler Batty said. “Quite honestly, I think it’s up to the D-line specifically. We really need to make sure that our run defense is on point every game. Stopping the run comes first and when we get the opportunity to get home on a pass rush, we need to get there. It sound like simple fixes and they really are.”
The numbers bear out the problem. BYU, a pretty good offensive team, had 29 drives of nine plays or more in 13 games. The Cougars allowed their opponents 38 drives of nine plays or more, including at least four drives of nine plays or more in nearly half of its games (six).
BYU held Utah to just one drive of nine or more plays in its 26-19 victory in Game 2. The Cougars had to hold on to beat 2-10 South Florida 35-27 and gave up four drives of nine plays or more resulting in 20 points and nearly 28 minutes of possession.
In a 26-17 upset loss at home to Boise State, the Cougars couldn’t get off the field against the Broncos, who had a 14-play drive, a 13-play drive and two nine-play drives. Boise State came into the game struggling in the run game but played ball-control offense and got four field goals off of those drives. More importantly, the Broncos kept the Cougar offense off the field.
In BYU’s disappointing 31-28 loss to UAB in the Independence Bowl, BYU allowed a 15-play drive, an 11-play drive and two nine-play drives, a total of 28 minutes of possession for the Blazers. Those drives led to 17 points. Leading by three points late in the game, UAB had a nine-play drive that drained the final 3:36 off the clock for the win.
The injuries forced the Cougars to play a lot of athletes on the defensive side, which could make a difference this season.
“I really liked the way we started last year,” BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb said. “So I think that from a coaching standpoint, the question we have to ask ourselves is, how did we go from one of the best defenses in the country in the first five games to very, very average or even below average in the last five, six games? Obviously injuries played a factor in that but as coaches that’s our job to be able to recruit, develop and plug in the next player, and we weren’t able to get that done.
“Last year, we ended up winning a lot of games, but our offense also got really hot about mid-season and really saved us so I think it’s about returning to form. It’s different players and the game changes too, so it won’t be the same schemes, but that kind of production is what we’re chasing.”
Defensive tackle Earl Tuioti-Mariner thinks the defense will be deeper and stronger in 2022.
“The more experience, the better,” he said. “We have more guys to rely on when one guy goes down. We know there are guys that have played in games and they can step up and play for us. We’ve all gotten bigger. We’ve all gained weight. We just want to dominate the line of scrimmage.”
Defenses take pride in getting three-and-outs, and the Cougars would like to improve those numbers as well. Last season, BYU produced 29 three-and-outs on 145 opponent possessions (20 percent), with a high of seven (out of 16 possessions) against FCS Idaho State and a low of zero (out of nine possessions) against Washington State.
“If were getting off the field, that’s our job,” Batty said. “So it’s our job to get three-and-outs. In an ideal world for the defense, every time we step on the field we want to get a three-and-out and come off to the sideline. We just want to hand the ball to our offense and they can go score. It’s something we’re really going to be aiming to do. I think something we’ll be able to do well this year is getting after it and getting off the field.”