PROVO — Over the past nine quarters, including Friday's 47-0 shutout of Hawaii, BYU's defense has not allowed an opposing team to score a single point.
The last time the Cougar "D" yielded any points was late in the third quarter at Utah — and that came on a 39-yard touchdown pass one play after a BYU turnover.
"Defensively, these guys just keep rolling along and playing consistently, and it's hard to score on them," said coach Bronco Mendenhall, who also serves as the Cougars' defensive coordinator. "As long as they do that, even the games we dropped this year, we had a chance right to the very end, last play. I think that's the way the rest of the season could be, based on the more difficult opponents that we play."
Indeed, things could get tougher starting next Friday (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN), when the Cougars host Utah State.
For now, BYU has allowed just four touchdown drives this season, two against Weber State (77 and 75 yards) and two against Utah (17 and 39 yards). The offenses for Washington State, Boise State and Hawaii never reached the end zone. While those offenses have struggled this season, they are coached by brilliant offensive minds — Mike Leach, Chris Petersen and Norm Chow, respectively.
Can the BYU defense keep on rolling?
"They can get better. I'll tell them they can get better, and they know that," Mendenhall said. "We have really high expectations. It's a fun group to be around, and we have good players. It's a fun group to coach because they're not only willing, but they have good ability."
"We're a good defense, but we know we could do a lot better," said defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah, who recorded five tackles, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry against the Warriors. "We're not going to stop putting in extra effort. We're going to keep working hard."
It's been nearly two years since Mendenhall took over the reins of the defense after firing Jaime Hill in the wake of a 31-16 loss at Utah State — and the results speak volumes about what that change has meant to the defense.
"I take great pride in it. It's what I like to do," Mendenhall said. "There's a lot of things, being the head coach, that maybe I'm not as much suited to. But I like coaching defense and I like coaching football — being in the room with the players and sharing in their joys and successes. It reminds you why you're coaching in the meantime."
One point of emphasis this past week in practice was forcing turnovers, and Hawaii turned the ball over three times.
"Our coaches do a good job in preparing us," said safety Daniel Sorensen, who had an interception in the first half. "Last week in practice, the focus was creating turnovers, and I think it showed up today."
The Cougars also limited the Warriors to 149 yards of total offense, marking the 11th consecutive opponent that has failed to gain more than 300 yards against BYU.
How good can this defense get?
"I don't think we'll ever be satisfied until we feel like we've reached our potential. What that is, I'm not sure," Sorensen said. "There are definitely some assignment things that can get cleaned up. … I don't think we'll reach a plateau or realize that we've reached that point where we're satisfied."
Sorensen added that having the offense do its part, scoring 47 points, has brought the team together.
"We feel more united than ever and we're ready to carry this momentum into the next week," he said. "This is the most fun I've had playing football."
"We've got a bunch of guys that just love to play football," said cornerback Preston Hadley. "Any chance we get to be out there, we're just out there smiling, having a good time."
And while they're having fun, the Cougars will continue to try preventing opposing teams from scoring.
"That's the standard coach Mendenhall has set for us," Hadley said, "to play as hard as we can and not give up any points."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company