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BYU football: Defense now the 'focal point' in Cougar football

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22 2012 9:59 p.m. MDT

BYU players cheer on the sidelines after holding Boise State on fourth down during Thursday's 7-6 loss in Boise.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — BYU defensive coordinator and head coach Bronco Mendenhall couldn't have asked much more from his defense last Thursday night at Boise State.

The Cougar 'D' pitched a shutout, held the Broncos to fewer than 300 yards of total offense and staged one of the greatest goal-line stands in school history.

Could anyone have imagined that BYU would not allow the Boise State offense to score a single point, but still lose the game?

That's exactly what happened.

Somewhat overlooked in the Cougars' 7-6 setback at Bronco Stadium was their sterling defensive performance.

BYU shut out Boise State in the first half, the first time the Broncos had failed to score in the opening two quarters since 2005. And it marked the first time Boise State had failed to score an offensive touchdown at home since becoming an FBS team in 1996.

The Cougars have now held their last 10 opponents to under 300 yards of total offense, dating back to last season.

"We have a really good defense, and I think people are starting to acknowledge that," said senior linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "Usually you'd expect BYU to have a really powerful offense and the defense is just there on the field. But our defense is the focal point of this team. We lead with energy and emotion and hopefully try to pass some of that on to the offense."

The futility of the BYU offense squandered the defense's memorable effort Thursday.

It was nothing short of amazing that the Cougars could be minus-5 in turnover margin against the Broncos, and yet never trail by more than seven points.

BYU limited Boise State to 116 yards rushing on 40 attempts, an average of 2.9 yards per rush, and 261 yards of total offense.

Time after time, the Cougar offense put the defense in precarious situations. The most glaring one came in the third quarter when Michael Alisa lost a fumble at the BYU 1-yard line, with the Cougars trailing, 7-0.

On four straight plays, BYU's defense stonewalled Boise State, keeping the Broncos out of the end zone.

"It's the best feeling in the world," said Ogletree. "Any time an offense has four times to score inside their own 1-yard line and you don't let them, that's the best feeling in the world as a defender."

Mendenhall described the goal-line stand as "players just trying as hard as they absolutely can try to help their team. I think they'll remember it forever. I was proud of them for that. Man, it's fun to see people try that hard. It was good."

What was bad for BYU, though, was the offense's inability to carry its share of the load. When asked about that, linebacker Spencer Hadley expressed frustration but added, "There's no pointing fingers. There's no anger or animosity towards the offense. We love those guys. We'll stand behind those guys. We just realize that we can, and we've got to, do more."

"That's why football is the ultimate team game. You don't win or lose as a defense or an offense," said Ogletree. "You win or lose as a team. That's kind of how the dice shakes out sometimes. We'll get over it, though."

BYU, which has lost two consecutive games by a total of four points, returns to action Friday (6 p.m. MT, ESPN) against Hawaii at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

The Cougars learned after Thursday's game that they will be without senior defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna, who suffered a left knee (patella) injury at Boise State. He will be sidelined 6-12 weeks and will likely miss the rest of the season.

As much as BYU struggled offensively against Boise State, the Cougars still could have won the game had they been successful on a two-point conversion attempt after their only touchdown with 3:37 remaining in the game.

It was Mendenhall's call, and he stood behind his decision.

"I wanted to win. We had momentum for the first time in the game," Mendenhall explained. "Moving the ball offensively, we wanted to capitalize on it. I'd do it again."

His players said they supported the choice to go for two.

"I loved the coach's decision to go for it," Ogletree said. "We were right there, man. We were one catch away from winning the game, I think. So I'm not going to question that. I liked the call. We had the momentum at that point. It was a gutsy call. That's probably what I would have done if I was the coach."

Boise State's defense also came up big against BYU, scoring the Broncos' only touchdown and stopping that two-point conversion attempt.

"Both defenses were spectacular. All the kids that played on those sides battled their heart out," Mendenhall said. "The offenses did what they needed to do and it was a one-point difference. That was really how close the game was. Punters on both sides — that was a critical part of the game. They pinned us down a number of times with the kicking game as well."

BYU punter Riley Stephenson averaged 47 yards per punt on six attempts, including a 57-yarder and four punts that trapped the Broncos inside their own 20-yard line.

"Riley Stephenson punted the ball fantastic and helped us a ton with field position," Mendenhall said.

And the Cougar defense did its part — and deserved a better fate than a one-point loss on the blue turf.

email: jeffc@desnews.com

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