Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — BYU's defense is proving to be one of the best in the nation and one of the best in school history.
In this week's NCAA defensive rankings, the Cougars are No. 1 in rushing defense (59.5 ypg), No. 3 in scoring defense (8.83 ppg), No. 5 in total defense (229.3 ypg), No. 6 in tackles-for-loss (8.3 pg) and No. 9 in sacks (3.3 pg).
The BYU "D," which hasn't surrendered a touchdown in 13 quarters, led the way in a 6-3 victory over Utah State last Friday.
"It's what we train for everyday. Touchdowns aren't good," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy. "We strive for it. We enjoy not giving up any touchdowns."
"As a defense, we knew we could be good and limit teams to little amounts of scoring. To us, it's a lot of work paying off," said linebacker Spencer Hadley. "Anytime someone scores, I get offended."
Only a handful of times has BYU's defense finished the season in the top 10 nationally in defensive categories — 1974 (No. 3 in rushing defense), 1986 (No. 10 in total defense and No. 6 in rushing defense), 1998 (No. 5 in total defense, No. 5 in rushing defense), 2003 (No. 8 in passing defense), 2006 (No. 10 in scoring defense) and 2007 (No. 10 in total defense, No. 9 in rushing defense, No. 9 in scoring defense).
Speaking of national rankings, BYU (4-2) is preparing to host No. 10 Oregon State Saturday (1:30 p.m., MT, ABC). The Beavers (4-0) are coming off a hard-fought 19-6 win over Washington State at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Ore., over the weekend in front of a school-record crowd of 46,579.
While OSU rolled up 613 yards in a 38-35 win at Arizona on Sept. 29, the Beavers struggled to score points and the defense came up big against WSU. Oregon State intercepted four passes — three of them by defensive back Jordan Poyer — and did not allow Washington State to score a touchdown.
"We'll take these ugly wins," OSU defensive end Scott Crichton told the Oregonian after the game. "We have so much potential to win every game on our schedule. But we haven't played as a team yet; it's offense one week and then it's defense the next week. When we play as a team, which is still to come, you guys are in for something."
Meanwhile, BYU's defense is carrying most of the load these days.
"As a quarterback, it's phenomenal. I love it," freshman quarterback Taysom Hill said of the Cougar defense. "Our defense has been playing really, really well all year. It takes a lot of pressure off you as a quarterback and as an offense. It's a big blessing to have a defense as good as ours."
Hill, who started the past two weeks, sustained a knee injury late in the Utah State game. His status will be updated Monday. It's likely that senior Riley Nelson will return as the Cougars' starter this week.
BYU's defense plans to continue doing its part, even if it means not getting much help from the offense.
The defense "gives us a chance in every game," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "That's just the way this particular season is going."
"A win's a win for us. We'll take it any way," cornerback Preston Hadley said after the win over the Aggies. "Our team is pretty scrappy in that way. It was fun being out there. I think I might have lost a couple of years off my life. I get stressed at times. But it was fun, though."
The Cougar defense is simply living up to expectations it's set for itself.
"We're just doing what coach Mendenhall has asked us to do," Hadley said. "At the beginning of the year, he asked us if we wanted to be great. We all raised our hands and said we wanted to be great and that we'd do whatever we needed to do. It all comes down to how we practice. Coach Mendenhall, he pushes us really hard. He's good at getting underneath our skin. But it shows in the games, by how well our defense plays."
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