PROVO — Of course BYU defensive coordinator Nick Howell is happy that the Cougars beat Virginia last Saturday and won their fourth-consecutive game.
But when it comes to the defensive performance against the Cavaliers, and what the Cougars plan to work on during the bye week, Howell didn’t mince words.
“Personally, I’m glad we won. I think our quarterback (Taysom Hill) is a heck of a player, I think our punter (Scott Arellano) played an outstanding game. You smile for a second, but my smile was fake,” Howell said. “I’m not happy about how we played. I don’t think our defensive guys are happy about how we played. We’re glad we won, we’re not happy with how we performed. There’s not anything we really did, other than getting two turnovers, that we're happy with. The focus is on us getting better.”
Against Virginia, BYU allowed 33 points, 102 plays, 35 first downs, and 519 yards of total offense. The Cavaliers held the ball for 41 minutes and converted 10 of 22 third down plays.
That’s why the bye week will be a busy one for the Cougar defense.
“We have a good defense, we have good players, we have some glaring things that we have to fix right now,” Howell said. “We’re on red alert right now from Monday through Saturday. It’s a work week. Everyone needs to practice. If you’re injured, you’re practicing. If you’re really hurt, you’re not practicing. But we have to get going. We’ve got to get better. The focus is totally on us getting better at the areas we need to target. We’re going to do that.”
BYU is going to focus on the basics this week.
“We’re playing really, really hard. Extra hard. Guys are flying around,” Howell said. “We’re physical. We’re reckless, meaning we’re not doing our assignments. There’s too many penalties. A major focus on assignments and doing their jobs. We’ve had a lot of position changes that we’ve had and we’ve played a lot of young guys. We’re playing a lot of guys, which we’ve never done before. We have to work on execution.”
What was coach Bronco Mendenhall’s assessment of the defense?
“They played really, really hard. The execution part in critical moments is really what allowed Virginia to stay in the game,” he said. “Most of our work right now defensively is just mastering their assignments and execution.”
“Honestly, we didn’t feel like we played very well defensively at all,” said defensive lineman Remington Peck. “We watched film and corrected those things. Now it’s about doing our individual assignments and doing it on every single play so we can have success on defense.”
BYU was whistled for several pass interference penalties, and Howell said he thought they were all good calls. He added that while cornerback Robertson Daniel had one interception, “he should have had four.”
Overall, Howell says the defense has to be more disciplined.
“I like our guys. I like our physical edge. I hate (pass interference penalties),” he said. “I like guys being physical. There are things we have to clean up, obviously, and we address that every day. It’s not like we’re ignoring it. We have to take care of it, play clean and play physical. But I like the edge of our defense and the nastiness of our defense. I don’t want to change an ounce of that. What we need to do is clean up our assignments and the dumb penalties.”