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BYU football defenders glad to be trusted to be more aggressive

By Jared Lloyd - | Sep 14, 2021
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BYU defenders tackle a Utah ball carrier during the 26-17 Cougar win over the Utes at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Marci Harris, Herald correspondent)
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BYU defenders make a tackle during the game against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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BYU defenders signal after getting a big stop during the game against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)
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BYU defenders make a tackle during the game against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

Many BYU football supporters have expressed disappointment in how the Cougars have approached defense in the last few years, especially when they have chosen to only rush with three players.

That method, which does have its benefits, isn’t easy on the defensive lineman either.

“It sucks, I’m not going to lie,” BYU junior defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “Sometimes you’ve got four hands or six hands touching you, so you just have to trust the coaches. (Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki) has this saying about relishing it. We’ve got to suck it up and do our part, go all for it.”

He grinned when asked about how it has been in 2021 with the Cougars ramping up their usage of their blitz packages.

“It’s awesome,” Tuioti-Mariner said. “We’ve been getting sacks, pressures and those are game-changers. You can see on the field that it is demoralizing for the other team when you get a sack. It boost your morale up. I’m glad we are able to establish that trust and put some pressure on the quarterback, trusting the guys who are covering the receivers.”

BYU assistant head coach and safeties coach Ed Lamb explained that the Cougars haven’t rewritten the defensive playbook this season.

“There is not a pressure or a blitz that we’ve run in the last two weeks that hasn’t been in our playbook since Day 1 when we got together six years ago,” Lamb said.

He said that the big key allowing BYU to blitz more has been the recruitment and development of defensive backs who are good at playing man-to-man defense.

“If you are going to be aggressive, there is really not a way to be aggressive with zone defenses — if aggression is blitzing,” Lamb said. “Sometimes as coaches we have to consider how we want to be aggressive. Flooding the backfield is one way to be aggressive. Flooding the defensive backfield is another way to be aggressive against the forward pass. Right now we feel like we are at a really good place with our corners and their ability to matchup man-to-man. That’s with our safeties as well while we also have linebackers who can bring pressure and a defensive line that is stout. A good coach in any sport I imagine just does what their players can do best.”

One of the cornerbacks BYU has leaned on to lock down their receivers to allow the players to blitz is cornerback Isaiah Herron, who said he loves being trusted like that.

“It’s been a challenge but they recruited us because they believe in our ability to play,” Herron said. “Personally, I thrive on it and I enjoy it. We’ve been playing lights out as a defense. It’s been something that has been great to be a part of.”

Lamb described it as part of the process as players improve and get to the point where they are doing the right things, which in turn allows the coaches to push them more.

“I know players like to be challenged to play as much one-on-one as they can, to be as aggressive as they can to create as much havoc as they can,” Lamb said. “It’s fun to be able to put them in systems where we are showing them we have confidence in their ability to win one-on-one matchups.”

While the fact that BYU has six sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in two games is impressive — but the Cougars have also given up a couple of big plays at the back end because they had a lot of guys attacking the backfield.

BYU will see if it can win the chess match for the third straight week when the Cougars host Arizona State at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday night (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN).

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