If the BYU defense gets its way, opposing quarterbacks will be spending a considerable amount of time on their backs in 1998.
Cougar coaches are implementing some new defensive looks this spring in hopes of new results this fall. The goal? To establish an effective pass rush and register more QB sacks.Senior defensive tackle Daren Yancey loves the changes. "It's more of an attack defense," he explained. "In the past, it's been more gums than teeth. Instead of sitting back, you'll see three or four guys coming (at the quarterback). We've got some hard-blitz packages. We're bringing it.
That's what we've been waiting for for three years."
Leading the charge on the defensive line is a mix of veterans (all four starters are back) and up-and-coming underclassmen. Defensive coordinator Ken Schmidt says he's never had this type of depth at the position in his 16 years at BYU.
In addition to Yancey, there are seniors Ed Kehl and Issiah Magalei, juniors Byron Frisch and Andrew Nash, and sophomores Setema Gali, Hance Olsen, Shane Magalei and Chris Hoke.
"We've got eight or nine solid defensive linemen we'll use," said Schmidt. "We'll rotate people and keep them fresh."
Getting to the quarterback was not exactly BYU's forte in '97. The Cougars' inability to sack the QB was a serious concern for Schmidt, and he realized something had to be done.
While watching Vanderbilt play Tennessee on television, he was impressed with the amount of pressure, from all over the field, Vanderbilt was able to put on All-America quarterback Peyton Man-ning. With coach LaVell Edwards' blessing, Schmidt traveled to Nashville in February to talk to Commodore coaches about their defensive strategies.
Who says you can't teach old coaches new tricks?
"We're not changing our philosophy," said Schmidt. "Our defense will be the same, except we're adding some blitz packages. We're experimenting with it this spring and we're going to see how we like it."
Though Vandy was 0-8 in the rugged Southeastern Conference and 3-8 overall a year ago, Schmidt recognized there were some lessons to be learned in Nashville.
Vanderbilt, like BYU, is a program that doesn't have the luxury of having a roster dotted with prototypical SEC players, the kind that eventually wind up on NFL rosters. Vanderbilt has had to adapt and improvise since it plays against the Tennessees, Floridas and Alabamas of the world every week. (The Cougars will get an eyeful of smash-mouth, SEC-style football when it opens the season at Alabama on Sept. 5.) Yet the Commodores were No. 8 in the nation in total defense last year while BYU was No. 52.
In 1997, the Cougars posted 24 sacks in 11 games. "We were way down last year," said Schmidt. Fifteen sacks were by defensive linemen, and Frisch had nine of those. Schmidt explained BYU rushed only three players and dropped eight because the defensive secondary struggled for much of the season. "This year, we'll be able to put pressure with four people," he said. "Sometimes we'll rush anywhere from five to eight guys."
Schmidt is confident the secondary play will be improved in 1998. Juco transfer Hashi Robertson has been steady in spring practice as has senior Jack Williams. In the fall, another JC transfer, Brian Gray, joins the fold.
In all, BYU returns eight starters on the defensive side of the ball, including safeties Jason Walker and Tyler Nelson and linebackers Brad Martin and Rob Morris. Chris Ellison, who started almost every game for the Cougars in 1996, will be back after sitting out last year as a medical redshirt.
As far as Yancey's concerned, it all starts up front. "We have so much size," said Yancey. "We have the best defensive line in the WAC on our team. We're the biggest and the most athletic."
Thus far during spring practices, the aggressiveness of BYU's front line has been unmistakable. "We're going to try to work on getting more sacks," said Kehl. "We (on the defensive line) have been together for a while now. There's something to be said for that."
NOTES: The annual Blue-White spring game will be held at noon March 28 at Cougar Stadium.