We have smart guys that put the time in to know what the offenses are doing. I think knowing what they’re doing and then being able to execute what we’re capable of doing at a high level totally helps out with the game plan. —BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy
PROVO — It’s been seven years since BYU has lost a season-opener.
The Cougars narrowly fell at Arizona, 16-13, in 2006, but since then, they’ve won six consecutive openers. The main reason for that success? BYU’s defensive dominance.
During that streak, the Cougar "D" has allowed an average of just 12 points per game.
Among the highlights:
• In 2009, BYU’s defense forced reigning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford out of the game due to injury, and staged a memorable goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, in a 14-13 upset of Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
• In 2011, the Cougars, in their first game as an independent, opened with a dramatic 14-13 victory at Ole Miss in a game that saw linebacker Kyle Van Noy record a sack and fumble recovery for a game-winning touchdown with five minutes remaining.
• Last year, BYU held Washington State and coach Mike Leach’s offense to zero touchdowns in a 30-6 romp in Provo.
The Cougars are looking to add to their streak Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPNU) when they visit Virginia.
So why has BYU enjoyed so much success when it comes to the first game of the season?
“We have smart guys that put the time in to know what the offenses are doing,” Van Noy said. “I think knowing what they’re doing and then being able to execute what we’re capable of doing at a high level totally helps out with the game plan. With that being said, it usually determines the outcome of the game. Usually, there’s a special teams play here or there that works in the opener. That’s a big key for us. We have guys who are starters on special teams, and that helps out the team. Defensively, we just come prepared.”
The fact BYU’s defense has been so well prepared should come as comforting news to the Cougar offense, which is breaking in a new, fast-paced attack, with relative inexperience at quarterback and on the offensive line.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have a new offensive coordinator and a new starting quarterback.
BYU boasted the No. 3 defense in the country last season. And despite losing two projected starting cornerbacks due to injury in the last six months, the Cougars aren’t expecting a drop-off in performance.
“Here at BYU, the defense is held to a high standard,” Van Noy said. “We know that going into every single season. I don’t think it’s necessarily pressure. We like that and we want that. That’s kind of the attitude we take going against offenses — that we’re the best in the country and we’re out to prove it.”
Virginia sophomore David Watford, who redshirted last season and was named the starter a couple of weeks ago, is a dual-threat quarterback. “Their quarterback’s really mobile,” Van Noy said. “He can throw and he’s big.”
The Cavaliers are expected to depend on junior running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for 754 yard last season. The 5-foot-8, 205-pounder is a back that could test BYU’s defense.
“Our mindset this year is totally different than last year,” Parks said this week. “We want to be physical. We want to wear teams down on offense. We want to establish the run.”
One of the Cougars’ strengths last season was stopping the run.
“It’ll be important for us to block what we see and do it well, because they’re a big front seven,” Virginia coach Mike London said of BYU's defense. “Nose tackle is big, and we all talked about their linebackers as phenomenal players. It is a challenge, and we have to find ways to make sure we move the ball.”
London had high praise for Van Noy in particular.
“Well, he's definitely one of the best college football players that is out there and deservedly so, a lot of accolades,” London said. “You watch tape, he not only plays on defense everywhere but on special teams. He's a guy that plays a lot of spots at special teams — plays well there too. You have to know where he is at all times because I'm sure they're going to feature him in a lot of things. We just have to be aware of where he is. I don't know if you can duplicate him through practice, but I think it's more of an awareness. He can wreck plays, and we’ll try to do some things that hopefully minimize his effectiveness on defense, whether it's running away from him or doing some other things, but he definitely has a talent and he is one of the best players in the country.”
If the Cougars are to win their seventh straight season-opener, they will rely heavily on Van Noy and the defense to help get it done.