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Against Navy, BYU defenders will need big-time discipline, says school’s all-time tackler

Former BYU middle linebacker Shad Hansen has held the Cougars record for tackles the past 28 years and he’s well-acquainted with defending option offenses. He shares some advice ahead of Navy game.

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BYU’s defense will face a significant challenge in Navy’s option offense in its season opener on Sept. 7, 2020.

Jaren Wilkey, BYU

BYU’s all-time leading tackler Shad Hansen says facing Navy’s option is all about discipline, doing your job, and not doing somebody else’s assignment.

Hansen has held the BYU tackles record for 28 years.

Hansen knows the triple option. He attended the Air Force Academy Prep School before signing with BYU as a middle linebacker in the Ty Detmer era. At Air Force Prep, he faced the triple option every day and in every play in practice.

The Cougars open the 2020 season Sept. 7 at Navy in Annapolis, Maryland. The Midshipmen have been one of the nation’s most-potent rushing offenses the past few seasons.

Slowing Navy’s ball-hogging and clock consuming offense will prove key for BYU in that Monday night football game on national TV.

Hansen set a BYU record for total tackles in 1992 with 407, breaking a record by Rod Wood (394) who was ahead of Larry Carr (389), Glen Redd (384), and teammate Rocky Biegel (371).

Today, Hansen lives in Tarpon Springs, Florida, with his wife Lori. After graduating from BYU he worked for Black & Decker, but now works for Milwaukee Tool where he has been for 13 years.

His son Jake, also a middle linebacker, led the nation in forced fumbles last year at the University of Illinois. A preseason Big Ten pick by Phil Steele, Jake Hansen is on the watch list for the Butkus, Bednarik, and Nagurski awards. “He’s hoping to have a senior season, but everything is up in the air when the Big Ten canceled the season,” said the father.

Jake and Lori have a daughter on a Latter-day Saint mission to Billings, Montana, who is expected to return to BYU for school in January. Their youngest, Lane, plays middle linebacker for East Lake High in Tarpon Springs.

While at BYU, Hansen never lost to Air Force and its vaunted triple-option attack. The Cougars did struggle with Hawaii, however. Hawaii ran a version of the option offense with added formations and far more pass plays.

Hansen, like Virginia co-offensive coordinator and former Cougar linebacker Kelly Poppinga, said defending the option requires a simple approach. Hansen’s key is to be disciplined with assignments.

“You have to play assignment football, flat out. As soon as you try to do more than your assignment, that’s when the option beats you.” — Former BYU linebacker Shad Hansen, on playing against the option

“You have to play assignment football, flat out,” said Hansen. “As soon as you try to do more than your assignment, that’s when the option beats you. You have specific assignments where someone has the fullback off the dive, someone has quarterback, someone has pitch, and you as a defensive player, it is your job is to make the tackle.”

Wavering in your job will get you in trouble fast, said Hansen.

As a middle linebacker, Hansen had the fullback dive with a tackle or nose guard. The outside linebackers and ends had the quarterback and the safeties had the pitch while the corner would roll from the quarterback to the pitch.

Hansen said BYU would work on defending Air Force in the summer, and when they had a bye week, they’d take a few practice sessions working on their defense for the option.

Back when he played, NCAA rules allowed cut-blocking downfield, so smaller AFA linemen could go down the field and cut-block would-be tacklers. “If I’m not mistaken, I think the rules changed in 2017 or 2018 so cut-blocks were only allowed near the line of scrimmage,” said Hansen. 

“If you’ve got the fullback, you’ve got to tackle him every play, no matter if he has the ball or not. If your job is to tackle the quarterback, you hit him every play. I mean, that’s what we literally would tell our people, if they had that assignment, they were to hit the quarterback every play. And if someone had pitchmen every play, you played him and only him. If you decided to deviate from that and lost faith in what your teammate was doing, then that’s when you got beat.

He continued: “I think one reason we had pretty good success against them was our coaches had such a good game plan for it and always seemed to be able to do well. Most of it was that we just cared about our assignments and we trusted that the other teammate was going to carry out their assignment, too.

“I think a lot of times when they beat you, it was because you’re not disciplined enough, or you lose trust. You start thinking ‘well, they’re not going to give it to the fullback this time,’ but then as soon as you don’t cover a fullback on the dive, he busts a 40-yard run.”

Hansen still follows the Cougars even though his son Jake didn’t get much attention from Bronco Mendenhall’s staff at the time he was at East Lake High.

Right now, Hansen is focused on all the drama in the Big Ten with coaches and athletes assembling a plan to play.

While the NCAA will allow athletes this year to keep their eligibility for another year whether they play or not, Hansen said that is only part of the problem. “Schools still need to decide who will be given financial aid (scholarships) if they do return for their senior year if it was taken away.”

This leaves a lot up in the air for everyone and it is a very stressful time for Big Ten athletes and their parents.

Hansen will have his mind and heart focused on both issues this week: BYU versus Navy and his son playing in the BigTen.