When a football player has been on the sideline, it can be challenging to go on the field and immediately be fully locked in physically and mentally.
Sometimes it takes a play — or a couple of plays — for a guy to settle in and play at their best.
That is something the BYU defense has had to deal with as it regularly shuffles players in and out with its rotation pattern, but Cougar assistant head coach and linebackers coach Ed Lamb said after practice Tuesday that the team accepts that because the overall benefits are what is best for the team.
“What we are doing is committing to do right now is support the offense,” Lamb said. “We have a passing offense that goes no-huddle, so the defense plays too many snaps for any one guy. If anything, I think we haven’t rotated enough. We’ve got some guys who have gotten fatigued on the field.”
He explained that the BYU linebackers who are playing the most snaps are the ones getting the highest number of what the Cougars call “loafs,” which is where the player isn’t running full speed through the end of the play.
The defensive rotations aren’t in place because there isn’t a clear depth chart with No. 1s, No. 2s and No. 3s, according to Lamb. The purpose of subbing guys in is because a fresh No. 2 player is likely to grade out better than a fatigued No. 1 player.
“The rotation is based on how many plays a starter can play at 100 percent,” Lamb said.
The goal for the BYU defense, of course, is to force the opposing offense off the field as quickly as possible. Lamb said that achieving that goal will change the substitution patterns.
“If we get more three-and-outs, you will see a lot less rotation,” Lamb said. “The starters would be in, then go right back in on the next series. Theoretically if we had all three-and-outs, you would never see anyone but the starters.”
BYU junior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga put it succinctly when he was asked about the rotations during Monday’s press conference.
“I get tired,” Tonga said. “That comes with the game. I get tired and need water. But I’m confident in those I rotate with, so there is no pressure on me.”
Cougar junior linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi feels that at this point in his career he is acclimated to jumping right into the fray when his number is called.
“I feel pretty good about stepping on the field and being ready to play football,” Kaufusi said. “I know for some guys it takes one play. I feel the jitters at the start of the game but after one play you get your jitters out and you are good to go.”
He admitted that the limited number of plays that he gets now is very different from high school football, where he — like a lot of Division I athletes — rarely left the field.
“I remember that I was the long snapper in high school, so I would go from defense to offense to special teams,” Kaufusi said. “You don’t come out. But you get older and you can’t take as many snaps that you’d like to and that you used to get.”
He acknowledged that the opposition is made up of players who are also high-level athletes, so the margin for error is much slimmer.
For Kaufusi, college football is much more about quality over quantity.
“It’s making the most of your reps and plays you do get,” Kaufusi said. “As you get more specific in your positions, you have to take advantage of every single play. You don’t really have many reps.”
The flip side is that the BYU defenders have to be mentally tough enough to not allow a mistake to impact them for multiple plays, something that can be more difficult for players with less on-field experience.
Kaufusi believes that the tone has to be set by the veterans in practice to help the freshmen and sophomore have the right mindset.
“You try to coach them up where you can,” Kaufusi said. “We try to mimic game situations but there isn’t the game stress. It’s a chance to help the guys translate to the game what is happening in practice, that it is just football. It’s the same game.”