Every week brings a new offense and a new challenge for the BYU defensive unit.
This week, it’s pass-happy No. 24 USC this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (hey, an afternoon game!) at Lavell Edwards Stadium.
The Trojans’ offensive coordinator is Graham Harrell, a former record-setting quarterback for Mike Leach in the “Air Raid” offense at Texas Tech. In two games, USC has thrown 75 times for 649 yards.
“I’m familiar with it because it was the offense we ran when I was at BYU,” Cougar coach Kalani Sitake said. “So a lot of the concepts and schemes carry over from when I played here under Norm Chow and LaVell Edwards. Looking at the concepts, you still have the same execution and all that still matters. It’s such a unique offense and there are a lot of different ways to attack it. They have a lot of ways they can counter as well, so it’s going to be a good matchup and we’re looking forward to it.”
Starting quarterback J.T. Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 1 against Fresno State and was replaced by true freshman Kedon Slovis. In his first start against Stanford, Slovis completed 28 of 33 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns.
“He’s an impressive kid,” Sitake said. “He has good composure. I watched them on the film and I think he has poise and made some really tough throws. He has some really good weapons around him and showed some really good maturity and poise in the pocket. He was able to throw the ball with good timing.”
Defending the Trojans pass game will be a challenge for a team that hasn’t generated much of a pass rush in the first two contests.
“Our mindset needs to be to get to the quarterback as fast as we can,” BYU junior defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga said. “We need to get pressure on their freshman quarterback. That has to be key for our defensive line. When you crush the pocket it’s all about penetration and being in the backfield.”
Getting an afternoon game on network television (ABC) against a ranked opponent is a big opportunity for the Cougars.
“I know that coaching staff,” Sitake said. “They are a great coaching staff and they’ve done an amazing job developing their players. They will have them ready. For me as a head coach it’s focusing on what we can do as a unit and as a team and make sure that we are at our best. I don’t think we’ve done it yet so my job is to make sure that on Saturday afternoon we play at our best. We’re getting better but this would be a good time to play at our best in all three phases and give our fans something to remember.”
A big game
Senior wide receiver Micah Simon posted career numbers against Tennessee with seven receptions for 127 yards, including the game-changing 64-yard reception in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter to set up Jake Oldroyd’s game-tying field goal.
“Micah has put a lot of his heart and soul into this program and done some things that people don’t see, things with the culture,” Sitake said. “I was just really pleased with him being able to make plays. It doesn’t really matter to him whether he’s catching the football or blocking somebody. It’s something he takes a lot of pride in for this team to be successful.”
Simon said he snuck a peek at the clock after he caught the pass, knew he wouldn’t be able to outrun the Tennessee secondary and decided to make sure he protected the ball and got down quickly so the field goal team could come on the field.
“It’s just my job to go out there and make plays when my number is called,” Simon said. “I would have felt the same way if I had one catch or seven. That’s just what I wanted to accomplish this season was to be a consistent and reliable player for Zach (Wilson) and for my teammates to trust and for the coaches to trust.”
Noise, noise, noise
The BYU-Tennessee game may not have been a sellout (92,475) but it was still loud enough to cause problems for the Cougars, especially on offense where they had to go to a silent count. Cougar offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, a former assistant at Auburn and LSU, told Sitake he’s never heard Neyland Stadium that loud.
Sophomore offensive tackle Brady Christensen was impressed by the volume in the stadium.
“That was the loudest game I’ve ever played in,” Christensen said. “I had to look at the ball (for the snap) the whole game. I came in expecting it to be loud but it was louder than I expected.”
On the mend
Sitake said he injured his ankle on Simon’s big play in the final 15 seconds after stepping on a stray headphone box while running up the sideline.
“I stepped on the box and popped my ankle,” Sitake said. “I didn’t go down though because I was telling him (Wilson) to spike it (to stop the clock). I just stayed up and had to tough it out a little bit but it was hurting. In the overtime we were having a lot of fun but it was still bugging me. It was really swollen but I was able to do a lot of chest bumps and hugs. Then the adrenaline wore off and it hurt.
“But it’s fine now. People were asking me how my ankle was doing. It was a winning ankle, so it feels awesome.”
What just happened?
Sitake thought it was a bird.
So did Tonga.
In the first quarter of the Cougars’ 29-26 double overtime win at Tennessee, junior defensive end Zac Dawe tackled Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and ended up with a shoe in his hand. Dawe immediately stood up and heaved the shoe toward the Tennessee sideline.
Social media had a lot of fun with that play, including references to the movie “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” where the main character is attacked by a henchman who throws a shoe as a weapon.
“Who throws a shoe, honestly?” Powers said.
Obviously, Zac Dawe throws a shoe.
“We took him off the field because I didn’t believe it at first,” Sitake said. “I thought it was a bird or something flying in the air. And then I saw it and so we pulled him because that’s not what we want him to do. I would rather have our guys help them up. I don’t expect them to tie their shoes for them but at least give him the shoe, but he tossed it.
“He came to the sideline and I was like, ‘What were you thinking?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know.’ He just had all this adrenaline. So I told him next time, just give him the shoe and everything will be OK. It was an impressive throw. He should have thrown the discus in high school.”
Guarantano and several of his teammates appealed to the officials, but eventually Guarantano simply trotted over the sideline, retrieved the shoe and sat down to put it back on his foot.
“I had run to the sideline to grab some water,” Tonga said. “I turned around and I just see something in the air I thought it was a bird. I thought a bird came straight through there. I said ‘What happened?’ and someone said, ‘Zac threw the QB’s shoe.’ We just started laughing. That’s Zac. I wouldn’t have done it but he did and it was funny.”