BYU football notebook: Cougar defense seeks improvement against Idaho State

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2013 9:00 p.m. MST

A referee gets in on the action as Melvin Gordon (25) of the Wisconsin Badgers is tackled by BYU defensive players during NCAA football in Madison, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) A referee gets in on the action as Melvin Gordon (25) of the Wisconsin Badgers is tackled by BYU defensive players during NCAA football in Madison, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

PROVO — A lot of people may consider BYU’s matchup Saturday against Idaho State meaningless, but Nick Howell isn’t one of them.

After what could be considered a subpar outing against Wisconsin, BYU’s defensive coordinator sees this week's game as an opportunity to improve and establish depth.

“Just playing hard and getting a pass rush against these guys and tightening down your fundamentals and hopefully building and increasing depth,“ Howell said about specific goals he has for his team against the Bengals. “With four games left I want to find out who we can trust just a little bit more and who can provide just a little more depth. ... I think there‘s definitely some guys that can take advantage of this deal right here.”

Idaho State enters the game with a 3-7 record and a four-game losing streak against what could be considered weak competition. Despite how the Bengals look on paper, however, Howell believes they'll present a challenge.

“Eastern Washington beat Oregon State and these guys played Eastern Washington pretty well,” Howell said. “Oregon State beat Utah, who beat us, and you tie that all together and you have to play a football game.”

One of the specific areas Howell would like to see improvement is tackling. The Cougars had an unusual amount of missed assignments and missed tackles last week against nationally ranked Wisconsin.

“Everybody saw it,” Howell said. “I think it’s two good running backs and we missed tackles. I think it’s a matter of coming to balance and not lunging, and not wrapping up. Our base wasn’t good; our pad level was too high; and they broke free and we missed some run fits.”

A DIFFERENT DEFENSE: Changes to personnel and base alignments occur with any defense over the course of a season, and BYU has had its share of changes since its opening game against Virginia. According to Howell, many of the changes have been brought about by one player.

Spencer (Hadley’s) up and downs have really affected us,” Howell said. “Guys have had to step in. I think Manoa Pikula has grown up a bunch and we’ve found a lot of versatility with Alani (Fua) — he’s played everywhere.”

Hadley started at inside linebacker for the team’s first two games, but then served a three-game suspension due to honor code violations. Pikula stepped in to spell him at inside linebacker along with Tyler Beck and Austen Jorgensen, who has since incurred a season-ending knee injury.

Hadley was moved primarily to outside linebacker when he returned due in large part to how well his replacements fared in his absence. Hadley isn't expected to play this week against Idaho State after tearing his MCL, which would allow other players a chance to prove themselves.

FOCUS ON FUA: One of the biggest changes to BYU's defense has been the changing roles of Fua. The 6-foot-5 junior started the year starting at outside linebacker, but has since seen significant time as the team's nickel back and even at cornerback.

Fua's changing roles haven't been much of a surprise to Howell, who knew he was a special athlete when he recuited him.

“When we recruited out of high school (we knew) he was a big-time athlete,” Howell said. “He’s just been playing behind good players, so it hasn’t happened quite as fast — probably a year later than he would have liked — but I don’t think (his play) has surprised us.”

Email: bgurney@desnews.com Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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