Imagine being a defensive lineman for the BYU football team in 2019, going into a game knowing that throughout the contest you will likely face two or even three blockers because you will only be rushing three guys — and you are expected to be disruptive anyway.
“It’s a part of the job,” Cougar junior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga said after practice on Tuesday. “I relish my role. If the double team comes, I’m expecting it. I’m shocked if it doesn’t come. That’s good for me because I have stout defensive linemen right next to me to come off their blocks and make plays. It is a lot of pressure to make plays but it’s good pressure. The coaches expect a lot out of us but that’s something we love and we’ll take as a challenge as a defensive line.”
BYU freshman defensive lineman Atunaisa Mahe believes that the only way to approach such a strategy is to rally as a group.
“It’s definitely a lean-on-each-other mentality,” Mahe said. “The coaches are able to drop eight because they believe in the defensive front. Taking that into consideration, we’ve got to back that up. Whenever we get out there, our mentality is to show them that they can still trust us.”
Many Cougar supporters have expressed doubt that the rush-3, drop-8 defensive concept is effective because it often gives the opposing quarterback time to find receivers downfield.
BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki sees it as just a different philosophy to combat some of the run-pass option plays opponents use.
“There is a difference between football scheme and football theory,” Tuiaki said. “There is so much run-pass option now with linemen getting three or four yards downfield. You are telling the backers to fill the gaps but the quarterback is just dumping it right over the top of them. It’s hard for the defense to play aggressive in the RPO game unless you are playing man-to-man. There are five million different answers to it and everyone is playing it a little bit differently. For us, I think it’s better to force the quarterback to make throws.”
He said it’s all about the entire defense meshing and understanding each role.
“You can’t go into a fight as a fighter with the plan to establish the jab — then have your right hand swinging whenever it wants,” Tuiaki said. “It doesn’t work like that. It all has to work together.”
In this approach, Tuiaki said he does ask a lot of his defensive linemen.
“We tell them that we don’t necessarily need to get sacks but we need to get the quarterback to move his feet,” Tuiaki said. “If he has to move his feet, the percentages of completions go down.”
But, he added, it would be just a different part of the defense that would be under pressure if BYU brought blitzes on every down.
“It’s the name of the game when it comes to that scheme,” Tuiaki said. “If we are blitzing six, then we are leaving the corners to cover one-on-one and we expect them to do their thing. I think the weight has to be distributed as far as what is expected from everyone. Some weeks it is one thing, other weeks it is another. Guys have to relish the role and buy into it.”
Tuiaki said he’s been very pleased with how BYU’s defensive linemen have graded out.
“We’re looking for different ways to create a little more pressure with the three-man line,” he said. “There are twists and different things that you look at. With what we have asked them to do so far, I think they’ve done a really good job.”
Tonga said having the defensive line get into the backfield and make a play against such tall odds is immensely rewarding.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to get a sack with a three-man front — especially when they max-protect leaving a back or a tight end to help out,” Tonga said. “When we still get the job done, it shows a lot from our defensive line, the heart to go for it. It’s a hard six seconds but that’s the job and we enjoy it.”
Mahe got to be the one to get that reward during BYU’s 42-14 win at Utah State as he sacked Aggie quarterback Jordan Love.
“People gave me all the credit but if they watch the play it was a slide protection to our side,” Mahe said. “Our defensive end was able to catch the eye of the tackle, who didn’t see me. It was a good play from our coaches so everything fell into place in that moment. I didn’t even know what happened.”
Since the Cougars host another opponent in Liberty on Saturday night (5:30 p.m. MT, ESPNU) that does a lot of run-pass option plays, don’t be surprised if BYU continues to rush three and drop eight to try to disrupt what the Flames want to do.Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.