Our performance (last year) ... we know we’re better than that. That wasn’t BYU defense last year, that’s not how we play here, so we’re doing everything we can to get back to playing like we know we can. —Senior inside linebacker Manoa Pikula
PROVO — BYU’s defense was substandard, inconsistent and downright bad throughout the 2014 season, leaving a bitter taste — along with big chips on shoulders — of defensive players returning this year.
During Wednesday’s media day, Cougar players invited to participate didn’t mince words regarding last year’s poor performance and their resolve to rectify it.
“This year we have a huge chip on our shoulder,” said senior inside linebacker Manoa Pikula. “Our performance (last year) ... we know we’re better than that. That wasn’t BYU defense last year, that’s not how we play here, so we’re doing everything we can to get back to playing like we know we can.”
The excuses for last year's poor defensive performance are many and usually involve relative inexperience at key positions, not enough quality leadership and coach Bronco Mendenhall giving up the reins as defensive coordinator.
During the offseason, Mendenhall chose to take back the coordinating duties and players feel that gives the defense a leg up.
“I can’t really say why, but it adds a level of competence to the defense,” said senior defensive lineman Remington Peck. “So I think you’ll see a big difference from last year.”
“You can feel him watching you and when he’s around you, (so) it brings out your best,” Pikula added. “You know there’s a certain standard he’s established here and you want to do everything you can not to let him down. I know for a fact that with him being with the defense again, we just got that much better.”
With regards to better leadership, seniors and even underclassmen such as sophomore linebacker Fred Warner are excited to take the lead. Warner was thrust into a starting role early last season as a true freshman, and while he performed well given his inexperience, he was far from satisfied.
“My name was called, I went in, but I wasn’t happy with how I played and what I was able to show,” Warner said. “Being a freshman is always an excuse, but for me, I have the expectation that I need to be a veteran right away. I need to be a playmaker for this defense.”
Pressuring the quarterback
One area the defense is looking to improve on is pressuring the quarterback. The Cougars had just 27 sacks in 2014 and are looking to up that number this season.
“The defense isn’t going to change, so we’re going to have to find a way to get (to the quarterback),” Peck said. “So one thing we’ve worked on is that we’re all leaning down. We’re trying to keep our strength, but get quicker and get faster and to put pressure on the quarterback.”
According to defensive line coach Steve Kaufusi, effective pressure involves much more than simply recording stats.
"With all the short drops and everything else offenses do, it's harder to sack quarterbacks," he said. "So what we're trying to do is disrupt a play, and the timing of a play, in any way that we can. Sacks are great, sure, but for us, it's about disrupting plays."
Flipping the offseason
BYU will have to be at its best from the get-go in 2015 considering its brutal front-loaded schedule that includes Nebraska, UCLA and Boise State. In hopes of firing on all cylinders from the start, the Cougars have flipped their offseason routine.
“This year it’s completely switched,” Peck said. “In the past we went real hard in spring and sort of relaxed and recovered in the fall. This year we sort of relaxed a bit more in spring and we’re going real hard in the summer, so I think that will help us leading up to the season.”
Toledo on the schedule
BYU announced a home-and-home series with Toledo on Wednesday. The Rockets will travel to Provo to take on the Cougars Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, and then return home to take on the Cougars Sept. 28, 2019.
According to Mendenhall, former Timpview defensive lineman Isaiah Nacua has transferred to Snow College.
Other moves include Teu Kautai switching from inside to outside linebacker and A.J. Moore switching from running back to defensive back.