PROVO Considering the fact that BYU gave up 362 yards of total offense in its season-opener against Northern Iowa, it would be easy to see why some including coach Bronco Mendenhall might be questioning the Cougars' defense.
With the exception of a few big plays, however, BYU really took the Panthers out of what they wanted to do offensively. And actually, Mendenhall felt his defense played soundly and solidly in allowing only 10 offensive points, despite a few lapses.
"We kept our point total down to 10, which will win a lot of football games, and that's our ultimate goal," Mendenhall said.
Take Northern Iowa running back Corey Lewis, for example. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards a season ago, but the Cougars held him to only 37 yards on 17 carries. That's an average of 2.2 yards per carry.
Even with a couple of big running plays by the Panthers, BYU still only gave up 3.7 yards per carry which includes Northern Iowa's 37 yards lost rushing.
"We were tackling very well and we were forcing things to be in front of us," Mendenhall said.
At halftime, the Cougars had given up 154 total yards to the Panthers. However, 133 of those yards came on five plays. On the other 23 plays, the Panthers managed only 21 total yards which is why Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley praised BYU for its first-half defense.
"I thought they did a nice job early," Farley said.
In the second half, when the Panthers still only managed one offensive touchdown despite gaining an additional 208 total yards, the Northern Iowa coach felt his offense simply failed to execute. But the Cougars had several critical defensive stops in both halves.
Early in the second quarter, Panthers quarterback Pat Grace slipped through a hole on the left side and rambled 69 yards to BYU's 3-yard line. But after a penalty, two 1-yard runs and a quarterback hurry, Northern Iowa eventually had to settle for a field goal. To start the second, Grace hit Victor Williams for a 30-yard gain. But then after a 4-yard run and two incomplete passes, the Panthers were eventually forced to punt.
Following a 29-yard pass from Grace to Josh Collins in the third, BYU again held the Panthers and forced a punt. On the first play of the fourth, the Cougars stopped the Panthers on a fourth-and-three. Later in the fourth, the Cougars held on a third-and-two and also forced a fumble on a third-and-four.
Overall, BYU forced Northern Iowa into five fumbles, even though the Panthers recovered three of them. Fans from both sides are probably still talking about the two hard licks that Cougar linebacker Coleby Clawson put on Grace. Both left him lying on the turf for several minutes."I like the way he plays," Mendenhall said of Clawson. "He plays with heart and he plays with effort. And he's tough. He was one of the real bright spots today. I think we can use him at a higher rate than we did. I was very impressed with him."