Defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said BYU implemented changes in both personnel and scheme on Tuesday in preparation for the trip to Virginia to face 6-1 Liberty University on Saturday.

Tuiaki said some changes would involve switches in positions and defining different roles as the Cougars work to fix issues plaguing the defense this season. If head coach Kalani Sitake has changed Tuiaki’s role as defensive coordinator after a disappointing loss to Arkansas on Saturday, he did not confirm or deny any change to the media.

He did say healthy offensive linemen who have not cracked the starting lineup may be given a chance on defense.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said Sitake did address the team Tuesday morning but said the remarks were best kept within the confines of the team.

“Things that happen in team meetings just stay in that instance. That’s a sacred place where a team meeting is, that’s just for the team,” said Roderick. “So the only thing I’ll say is that I like how we’re playing offense. Overall, we want to keep getting better. I think we’re trending in the right direction. Our goal is to take another step, just keep getting better each week. 

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“We are actually scoring almost a touchdown more per game than last year.”

Roderick said quarterback Jaren Hall is better this week than he was heading into the Arkansas game in which he believes Hall had perhaps the best game of his career. Hall was injured in the win over Utah State and did not take a rep in practice leading up to the Notre Dame game in Las Vegas.

Tuiaki said BYU’s defense had a very good practice on Tuesday and the work focused on execution and building enthusiasm and confidence heading into the Liberty game. He also said it was important for players to have fun playing the game. 

“We’re playing on a lot of pressure, pressure circumstances of winning and making it to a bowl game. There’s a pressure that can make it not fun and play tight. Win, lose or draw, we are with them all the way to the end so we need to play with more swag and looseness and that’s something we’ve missed. I thought today’s practice was great. Players are understanding what we want out of them and they are executing better,” said Tuiaki.

“Everybody has issues on the outside and at home, but in practice, we just have to cut loose for two hours of practice and say, ‘OK, this time is for us,’ and get after it. Those other things will be waiting for us after practice.”

Tuiaki said since the Arkansas loss, the defense has worked on a lot of schemes and identifying roles. “Sometimes when you are talking about change, the idea of change signals to players that we are putting in the time and effort to make a difference. That has a different feel to it and it triggers the emotions of just it’s a big enough deal to make things different.”

Making changes in midseason is a tough thing to do, said Tuiaki. When you are in the business of coaching, when changes are made, it may be what fans are looking for, but it is hard on the players. All of a sudden you are missing a coach, someone who can contribute.

“For us, if the role is changed for us and things are asked differently of us, we need to be better at it. So, it is all hands on deck in order for us to do what we need to do. We’re still looking. We are doing some things. Kalani is more involved, which is great. We’re coaching away and trying to win games. Kalani has always been involved and he’s more involved now, our situation demands it. The way we are playing demands more from the head coach and from all of us.”

Tuiaki hinted there could be some linemen switching from offense to defense, giving dedicated, hardworking, healthy players a chance to get grass stains on their uniforms instead of standing on the sidelines.

“Our players are just awesome. We have some healthy players who haven’t been playing and we’re going to move them over. Players who maybe haven’t been cracking the depth chart, we’ll move them over. Our veterans have stepped up to help them move around.

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“If coaches are being moved around, then players are too. We are doing what is needed to be done. We need to simplify some things and execute better. We are doing everything we can to make a difference.”

Tuiaki said in the seven years he’s been at BYU, there have been times when losing brings up issues or things and makes a staff look at everything they are doing, changing this and changing that. Sometimes, he said, it causes you to chase rabbits. 

“There is a culture here, there is a belief, there are convictions about what we are doing, we’ve won a lot of games. We’ve won a lot of games, need to stick to the plan, we’ve got to move forward. Winning will come. Confidence will be instilled and we’ll come back and say we were correct in doing it. We’ve been through it. Obviously, you can stick to the plan and still make some changes, just like you do in life.”

Tuiaki said everything is being evaluated from roles to schemes, reevaluation of coaches and who does what, reevaluation of who calls plays, and who is in what packages. It is a reevaluation from top to bottom on what they need to do to win games.

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