Call it an extreme 180.

BYU’s defense is operating with a completely opposite philosophy than a year ago during spring practice, now in its third week.

Can the squad handle such an attempt at that drastic of turnaround?

Time will tell.

Former Weber State head coach Jay Hill, now BYU assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, is tasked with creating and controlling this morphing.

Hill had his shirtsleeves rolled up during a goal-line situational drill last Friday. He was fanning the fire in the middle of a scrum. He was vigorously encouraging attack mode, making demands. He was animated in his call for passionate effort. He was pumping up and pushing BYU defenders with intensity, asking players to bury the needle on combativeness and competitiveness.

Hill was kneading the dough.

Kelly Poppinga, a disciple of Bronco Mendenhall’s defenses at BYU, Virginia and then last year at Boise State, declared the “aggressive” play calls on defense by Hill were as bold as he’d ever seen in his career.

That’s saying something.

“We’ll see how aggressive that continues to be called, even in games,” he told “BYU Sports Nation” on BYUtv.

Making a reference to what Hill had experienced at Utah as a player and coach, Poppinga continued, “He came from that other school where they are pretty aggressive and he had that same success at Weber (State).”

Poppinga said BYU’s future defense is not going to sit back and allow teams to run at them at will. He said Hill will make sure gaps are covered by defensive ends and linebackers so it will be more difficult for a running back to find a hole.

 “Someone is going to be in the face of a quarterback,” he said.

The past several seasons, especially during a four-game losing streak last fall, BYU’s defense struggled to get offenses off the field. Running backs successfully converted third-downs, kept offenses in possession and manufactured clock-eating drives that kept BYU’s offense on the sidelines, simply out of the game.

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Notre Dame’s offense had the advantage of being on the field 40 minutes and 55 seconds and ran a whopping 73 plays to 46 for the Cougars, whose plays possessed the ball just 19 minutes and 58 seconds. No wonder the Irish beat the Cougars 28-20. A pair of Fighting Irish running backs, Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, had 97 and 93 yards on 14 and 17 carries.

Arkansas beat BYU in Provo 52-35 and ran 82 plays to just 71 for the Cougars in a game where little defense was played. BYU fell behind because quarterback KJ Jefferson couldn’t be stopped, broke tackles, and completed 29 of 40 passes for 247 yards and two TDs.  Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders had 175 yards on just 15 carries, an 11.7 yards per average carry.

Liberty beat BYU 41-14 in Virginia with Dae Dae Hunter galloping for 213 yards on 23 carries, a 9.3 yard average. Liberty’s offense had the ball for 19 more minutes, a 77 to 50 advantage in offensive plays.

In a disappointing 27-24 loss to East Carolina, the Pirates simply got a lead on the Cougars and controlled the clock with running back Keaton Mitchell running in, around and through BYU’s defense for 171 yards on 21 carries. That’s 8.4 yards per rushing attempt.

The idea of a running back gaining almost 10 yards a carry on a defense is, well, unthinkable, and the opposite of getting the job done.

In a quick look at BYU’s spring drills from 30,000 feet, it is very apparent that Hill is not going to stand for that kind of humiliation from this defense; running around waving a white flag on ESPN.

No, if this defense goes down, it will be clawing and bruising the other guys on the way.

Hill’s over-aggressive approach now and in the fall may slack off before the season begins because he is establishing a baseline and culture.  

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But maybe not. Maybe he will stick with pent-up aggression on that side of the ball and hope nobody burns out.

It’s a 180-degree turn from what BYU was used to a year ago in the final year of independence.

Early in his BYU coaching career, in his Ides of March, Hill isn’t shy about his intentions. He is burying BYU’s previous defensive scheme.  

And the hole is deep.

BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill instructs players during practice Friday, 17, 2023, in Provo. | Nate Edwards, BYU Football
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