PROVO It's been a rough year to be a BYU safety.
Senior Quinn Gooch was the latest to go down to an injury after suffering an ACL tear to his knee during last week's game victory over TCU. Two others, projected starters Dustin Gabriel and David Tafuna, were lost for the season due to injuries during fall camp in August.
"Losing Quinn Gooch is a big loss for our defense," said senior linebacker Kelly Poppinga. "Quinn is a great leader and he's not going to give up on his team now that he's hurt. He's going to be like another coach. That's what he was pretty much when he was out there on the field. Quinn knows this defense as well as any of our defensive coaches."
Gooch ranks fifth on the team in total tackles with 52 and is tied for the team-lead in interceptions with three. He also had four pass breakups.
Still, the Cougars are confident they have players who can fill the role vacated by Gooch. Junior Kellen Fowler played more than 30 plays against TCU after Gooch's injury and is expected to start Saturday at Wyoming.
BYU has been cross-training cornerback Ben Criddle to man the safety position, said coach Bronco Mendenhall. Criddle has received backup work behind Fowler at free safety while Andre Saulsberry can play at the boundary corner in place of Criddle. Junior Scott Johnson, a Timpview High product, is receiving more reps at the boundary corner when Criddle plays free safety. Johnson has also been cross-trained at safety.
"I'm excited to get other guys like Kellen Fowler and Ben Criddle in there," Poppinga said. "They're great players and they'll do a great job."
Poppinga added Gooch is focusing on helping Fowler and Criddle with that spot where Gooch had been a two-year starter. "Having in him practice, helping these other guys get ready to fill that position will be a key role for him. He's going to help them a lot with his insights and what he knows."
Poppinga and Gooch were roommates when the Cougars stayed at hotels on the road."I became pretty good friends with him. It's tough to see a senior starter that's been successful go down like that, with four games to go. But what can you do? You have to bring the next guy in and make sure he's ready to play."
GOING TO WYOMING: Mendenhall knows all about playing at Wyoming. He has been to Laramie twice as a BYU coach and a few times as a defensive coordinator at New Mexico."It's one of the most difficult places I've ever played. It's a place that the local community has adopted that team as kind of representative of the entire state," Mendenhall said. "When you go in there, they have something to prove. It's very difficult to get out with a victory. It's difficult to get into and the weather, especially later in the year, has been a challenge. I think they use it as an advantage. It is a whole identity they claim in that arena, and the Wyoming program has done an excellent job with it."
FLAGS GALORE: Through the first nine games of the season, BYU has been penalized an average of 7.44 times per game. Nationally, the Cougars rank No. 98 in that category.Of BYU's 67 penalties, the offense has committed 45 while the defense has been whistled for 12 infractions. The special teams, meanwhile, has recorded 10 penalties.
WYOMING CONNECTION: Poppinga and Wyoming strong safety Joe Killpack, both Wyoming natives, were teammates in 2003 at Utah State. Killpack and his brother, redshirt freshman Jared Killpack, both served LDS missions.
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BYU (7-2, 5-0) at Wyoming (5-5, 2-4)
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