Season opener against UConn presents many unknowns for BYU defense
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — BYU linebacker Manoa Pikula admits to not really knowing what to expect when the Cougars kick off the season against Connecticut next Friday.
The unknowns include what type of offense the Huskies will run and how much Pikula, an assumed starter at inside linebacker, will play.
“We’re kind of just rotating with different guys and seeing what guys work well with different players,” Pikula said. “So we’re still getting a feel for who will be the starters right now.”
According to defensive coordinator Nick Howell, who starts against UConn isn’t the most important thing.
“It really, to me, doesn’t matter to me who starts and who doesn’t,” Howell said. “We need six (defensive backs) ready, we need four inside 'backers ready and four outside linebackers ready, so we just have to keep them going.”
Pikula believes he'll be in the rotation and hopes to start and make a big impact despite missing a large portion of fall practices catching up on his academics.
The former Bingham standout began practicing with the team about a week ago and has hit the ground running.
"It was incredibly frustrating not being out there with the guys, but it was a big learning experience for me," Pikula said. "It gave me a chance to be kind of like a coach and coach them up. We're young at inside linebacker, so I've had a lot of questions thrown my way and done my best to answer. But yeah, it's not the same being out there with them."
Despite not practicing for the first two weeks of August, Pikula, who played extensively as a sophomore last season, feels he hasn't fallen too far behind.
"I feel comfortable out there, so there's not a lot of worry there," he said. "I know both inside positions well, so now it's just a matter of knowing where exactly I'll play and how much. I think we're all pretty much like that and it's exciting."
UNKNOWN OPPONENT: UConn hired T.J. Weist as its new offensive coordinator in the offseason, which creates another set of unknowns for the Cougars in their first game.
"We've faced a new offensive coordinator I don't know how many years in a row, but it seems since like every year since I've been here," Howell said.
To combat the unknowns, Howell believes in focusing on what his players do well and keeping the defensive schemes relatively simple.
"I feel that if we just focus on what we do, and do it well, that we'll be fine," Pikula said. "You stay with what we've practiced, make sure we play hard and physical. We should be fine."
EYE ON 85: Players and coaches don't know the player's name, but they know his number and what he's capable of when watching film on UConn.
"We know they have a go-to guy — No. 85, who is pretty good," Pikula said. "They're just going to launch the ball to him. He has sort of the same body type as Cody (Hoffman)."
No. 85 belongs to 6-foot-3 receiver Geremy Davis, who led the Huskies in receptions last year with 71 for 1,085 yards.
"He's kind of a big, firm, physical, get-the-ball kind of guy," Howell said. "He'll go get the ball any time and in any place."
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