‘We didn’t compete’: BYU’s defense looking to recover after spiritless performance in loss at West Virginia
Defensive coordinator Jay Hill said the Cougars will also be shorthanded against Iowa State, but that won’t be an excuse
“I think the biggest thing … is we didn’t compete like we had in the previous weeks,” Hill said Tuesday night after a practice in the Indoor Practice Facility.
“I thought at Texas, with all the crazy situations we got put in, on defense, I thought that was one of our most competitive, toughest games that we had played. And so to come out the next week and not play like that was a little disappointing.” — BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill
Seeing as how the Cougars dropped to 2-4 in Big 12 play, 5-4 overall, and are facing another team this week, 5-4 Iowa State, that likes to run the football and dominate in the trenches, that’s quite troubling. For all their shortcomings in their first year in the Big 12, the Cougars have never been accused of lacking the will to fight to the bitter end.
Later, when Hill was asked if he was concerned over that lack of willingness to compete, he shook his head.
“Not after the practice we just had. I don’t know what it was against West Virginia. Nobody wants to have a game like that, but whether it was back-to-back road games, or whatever it was, we just didn’t compete the way we had been expected to.”
Another puzzling aspect for Hill was that the Cougars played decently on defense in the 35-6 loss at No. 7 Texas the previous week. Of course, the Longhorns were using a new quarterback, while WVU had an experienced one in Garrett Greene.
“I thought at Texas, with all the crazy situations we got put in, on defense, I thought that was one of our most competitive, toughest games that we had played,” Hill said. “And so to come out the next week and not play like that was a little disappointing.”
West Virginia’s offensive line and outstanding running backs — CJ Donaldson and Jahiem White — had a lot to do with that. Hill said the Mountaineers’ offensive line is the best in the Big 12, if not the country.
“That is as good of an O-line as I’ve seen in college football for a long time,” he said. “And they played like it that day. And we did not respond to the physicality and execution they played with on the O-line.”
Linebacker Max Tooley, who led BYU with 12 tackles against WVU, also met with reporters after practice Tuesday and said the early deficit — the Cougars were behind 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the game — took some fire from their bellies.
“It has been kind of a trend for us (early deficits),” Tooley said. “It takes a belief as a whole, both offensively and defensively, and ultimately as a full team to just keep fighting.”
For some reason, that belief hit the country roads that surround Morgantown and left long before the game was over. Question now is, can Hill and his staff of Sione Po’uha, Justin Ena, Jernaro Gilford and Kelly Poppinga get it back?
“It is something that has to be taught,” Po’uha said Tuesday. “You can draw it on a piece of paper, but there is a nature in the defense that you always have to breed, if that makes sense. As you breed that, it takes some time. It is like someone who has been driving for awhile and understands the nuances of driving versus a new driver. There are just little nuances that a veteran in a system can understand.”
Hill spoke at length Tuesday about not making excuses for the defense’s poor play, but also acknowledged the unit was and will be shorthanded the remainder of the way, particularly along the defensive line.
He said defensive linemen John Nelson, Caden Haws and John Henry Daley will all miss Saturday’s game, along with defensive back/gunner Marcus McKenzie.
Hill said Daley is closer to returning than the others. He also said that safety Talan Alfrey, who suffered a serious injury in fall camp, has a chance to play this week. The defense is also playing without projected starting strong safety Micah Harper, and its leading tackler the past two seasons, linebacker Ben Bywater.
“The one thing you will never see from myself or anyone on our staff is excuses,” Hill said. “I will put the blame squarely on myself because it is my job to get these guys ready to play at a high level. … The reality is we gotta continue to get better in this scheme. It is a complicated scheme.”
So far, it is a scheme that hasn’t produced a lot of sacks. In fact, the Cougars are tied with Virginia for fewest sacks in the country, with just eight in nine games. They are 126th in tackles for loss, getting just 4.1 per game.
Some red-zone stands and the ability to force turnovers have enabled them to be a mediocre 77th in scoring defense (26.9). However, they are 108th in rushing defense (174.67 yards per game) and 101st in total defense (410.9).
“We gotta do a better job of putting them in positions to make some plays,” Hill said of the lack of sacks. “Those guys need to get home at times. I don’t think it is for a lack of effort, by any means.”
Hill said that some players are having trouble adjusting to his more aggressive schemes.
Cougars on the air
Iowa State (4-2, 5-4)
at BYU (2-4, 5-4)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MST
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
“I think some of it was in years’ past they weren’t expected to (rush the passer),” he said. “There was a lot of drop eight (coverage). I think you get into that — I don’t know if it is behavior — but bottom line is we’ve got to (have a) better, nasty pass rush mentality.”
Opponents are converting 43.3% of the time on third down against BYU, making the Cougars 105th in that category.
“There have been flashes of exactly what we want to see. But it has been inconsistent, and it is my job to get us consistent,” Hill said. “It is my job to continue to recruit the right players into this system, and it is my job to get a product on the field that the fans and the administrators and everybody can be proud of.”