"Obviously it's hard to judge across different time periods," Ogletree said. "There are so many offenses that put up a ton of yards with the evolution of the spread."
Yet when it comes to outstanding defenses, there are some common denominators.
"BYU's defense this year reminds me a lot of our defense because they give the offense a chance to win the game," said former Cougar linebacker Leon White, a San Diego native who helped lead BYU to a 13-0 record and the 1984 national championship. "I know their average points allowed is pretty low. That's similar to what our defense did when I played there."
White said he is impressed with the Cougar linebackers — Ogletree, Kyle Van Noy, Spencer Hadley and Uona Kaveinga. "They have a lot of good speed and they get to the ball a lot. That's similar to the time when I played — our linebackers had good speed and we got to the ball and we made things happen. These linebackers do the same thing."
Tim McTyer, who is regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in school history, was part of the 1996 BYU team that finished 14-1 and won the Cotton Bowl.
"We had so much chemistry because we were all friends and we worked so hard together. We just had fun," McTyer said. "When you get the pieces, it's what you do with it. I'll put that '96 team at BYU against anyone in the country that year. We had everything. We had a good defense, a potent offense and good special teams."
Poppinga played on the 2006 and 2007 teams that finished with identical 11-2 records. He sees similarities between those squads and this year's.
"It's guys that love football and are passionate about playing defense. They hold each other accountable," he said. "We had strong linebacker play those years and this year. For this defense, that's where it starts. What sets this defense apart from the others I played with is, this secondary is better, no offense to my former teammates. They're more athletic and they make more plays."
In Edwards' 29 years at the helm, BYU established a reputation for being an offensive juggernaut. Now, it's the Cougar defense that's receiving plenty of attention.
"During those years when we were having so much success throwing the football, it was the fact that we had a pretty good defense that was overlooked," Edwards said. "You had to have a good defense to get the ball back because those ball-control teams wanted to get the ball and keep it away from us. Not much was said about the defense during that period of time."
Certainly, times have changed, particularly in recent years under Mendenhall.
"Ever since coach Mendenhall's been here, we've always had a sense of pride in our defense, with coach Mendenhall being a defensive-minded coach," Poppinga said. "That's where it all starts, on the defensive side. It's just the same that it's been."
On the other hand, Poppinga admitted that defense in Provo will probably always take a back seat to the offense. "It doesn't matter how good we play defense here at BYU. We'll always be known for our offense."
That aside, Mendenhall knows that the stellar performance of this year's defense sets a high bar for future defenses that come along, which is particularly important as long as BYU is an independent.
"It's going to be imperative with the teams that we're going to be playing, with the exposure, in the stadiums that we're playing and the movement we're looking for in our program," Mendenhall said. "Regardless of who we play and what stage, it's that we're capable of, as we have been this year, to win every game on our schedule. Playing good defense has a ton to do with that."
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