BYU football coaches very clear on what needs to happen in 2022: defense to elevate where offense trending
BYU football media day revealed both strengths and challenges to fix weaknesses before the Cougars open up at South Florida
Expectations are high for Kalani Sitake’s BYU football team in 2022, but what are we to make of it all?
This past week’s media day provided a little insight, but like most preseason chatter, nothing matters until the Cougars take on South Florida on Sept. 3.
Sitake’s team will have a loaded offense, led by veteran QB Jaren Hall, experienced receivers and a mammoth offensive line that’s been through myriad battles.
The big task of replacing single-season rushing leader Tyler Allgeier?
When asked about Cal transfer Chris Brooks, a candidate to step in where Allgeier left off, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick answered with a question.
With both hands extended, palms up, Roderick asked, “Have you seen Chris Brooks?” The inference was that Brooks was a specimen. Cal’s best offensive weapon last year. And yes, from what BYU coaches have seen, Brooks is capable of a big season. So are Lopini Katoa, Jackson McChesney and other backs in the room.
Roderick told the media on Wednesday he believes BYU’s offense will be as good as anybody’s in the country.
He didn’t blink. Or wink.
And, yes, that is talk in the dead heat of summer, late June.
Roderick’s enthusiasm is backed up by a projection by ESPN’s Bill Connelly. He has BYU’s returning offensive production ranked No. 2 in the country with 88%. BYU’s defense returns 97%, which leads the country.
The truth is that BYU has had two seasons of double-digit wins including an undefeated 5-0 record against the Pac-12. If you look at FBS wins since 2011, BYU ranks 20th with 91, just behind No. 15 Michigan, Texas A&M and Stanford (92). Sitake’s program is 21-4 over the past two seasons.
BYU’s defense? The one that wilted at the end of last season? Can it hold up with a tough start against South Florida, Baylor and Oregon to kick off a season that includes a trip to Las Vegas against reputed top 20 power Notre Dame?
There’s optimism. But there’s got to be some proof of improvement in stopping the run.
On media day, the question of whether BYU’s defense would improve hung in the air. You got the feeling Sitake and his players are tuckered out about the public scrutiny and are hungry to fix it. Part of that is increased strength and conditioning for defenders, especially on the line. The first approach is to get stronger and fight harder.
Assistant head coach Ed Lamb said BYU coaches need to answer why they went from being one of the best defenses in the country to “very average or even below average” in the last five or six games.
“Obviously, injuries played a factor in that. But as coaches, that’s our job to be able to recruit, develop and plug in the next player, and we weren’t able to get that done,” said Lamb.
Give the guy an “A” for blunt honesty.
“Last year, we ended up winning a lot of games because our offense got really good about midseason, which really saved us. So, for me, I think it’s all about returning to the form we had for almost a 15- to 20-game stretch from the beginning of last year to the season before. We need to return to that form.”
Be it a scheme, personnel or depth, Lamb said BYU’s defense needs to find it fast. Because of injuries, he does believe the defense called on people they’d never planned to put on the field. From an experience standpoint heading into 2022, that should pay dividends.
Linebacking leaders Payton Wilgar (shoulder) and Keenan Pili (knee) told reporters this past week they expect to be ready to go at 100% by the time fall camp begins Aug. 3.
The fact that they are not ready in late June might be a minor concern. But that’s the injury bug. Rehab takes time and to do it right takes even more judicious time.
Defensive ends coach Preston Hadley said he has depth with rush end candidates he believes are healthy, stronger and more capable of delivering what is needed over what was on the field when the season ended in a loss to Alabama-Birmingham in the bowl game.
“We will be better and deeper,” Hadley predicted.
No question the Cougars will be far better with those two than without them at South Florida.
And Roderick, Hall and company?
If required to sit on a lead, kill the clock and keep the defense off the field, BYU’s offense is built to do that with bully ball, pounding the line of scrimmage with ball runs. The Cougars have the backs and blockers to pull it off in a reasonable P5 fashion.