Steve Griffin, Deseret News
BYU defensive back Michael Shelton attempts to bring down Utah State running back Darwin Thompson at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

PROVO — The quarterback position may get the attention when 6-1 Hawaii visits 3-3 BYU on Saturday in LaVell Edwards Stadium, but defense will determine the winner.

It’s high time BYU got defensive. Kalani Sitake’s team needs more emotion, more takeaways, more disruption and energy. It’s time BYU played with reckless abandon on defense, even though beat up and missing some stars. The passivity is putting everyone to sleep. It might as well start this weekend against the Warriors.

This was a week of chatter about BYU making a quarterback change. Inserting freshman Zach Wilson for senior Tanner Mangum will be a highlight of the game on ESPN2 because he will be matched against Hawaii’s Cole McDonald, the nation’s No. 2-ranked passer in yards thrown.

That’s all fine and dandy. There is plenty of drama and a lot of storylines at that one position. Alone. In fact, with Wilson, this may be the youngest BYU offense in like forever, with nearly half the starters freshmen.

But what about the defenses?

As good as Hawaii’s run-and-shoot offense has been in notching six wins, including a five-overtime win against San Jose State, the Warrior defense will likely be an easy target for BYU, whether it is facing Mangum or Wilson. Either one would chalk up some numbers.

Hawaii has faced a schedule ranked 135th in strength of schedule, and its resistance has been quite weak. Hawaii's defense ranks 88th in total defense, 66th in rush defense, 98th stopping the pass, 114th in pass efficiency defense and 85th in scoring defense.

If the Cougars don’t have their best offensive output of the season, regardless of which of its four quarterbacks play, Cosmo will need to become the main attraction on the field for the rest of the Cougars' home games.

On the other side, BYU’s defense will have its hands full. McDonald may or may not play. It is rumored among Mountain West media that he had an illness last weekend, but he did practice this week.

McDonald ranks second behind Washington State’s Gardner Minshew in passing yards this season. Minshew has 2,422 and McDonald 2,100 after missing a game.

Those are some fine real-estate gobblers.

BYU cannot afford to let Hawaii’s QB find a rhythm. The Cougar defense doesn’t have the luxury of not pressuring Hawaii’s quarterback, something that cost them against Jordan Love of Utah State and Jake Browning at Washington. Dropping back into coverage might seem like a good idea, but it hasn’t worked. Even with seven and eight defenders playing zone, those QBs used the time to throw perfect darts.

The excuse we heard is that the run game and RPO (run-pass option) had to be a priority for the defense. BYU blitzed USU six times, according to defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. It could have used triple that number. It wasn’t enough disruption and the Aggie run game worked anyway. Ditto with Washington.

The best defense of an accurate QB is to make him run, think too much, and land him on his butt. We saw this back in the '80s at New Mexico when Lobo defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn blitzed Jim McMahon almost every play. The future Hall of Famer looked below average in a loss.

Hawaii’s only loss came at Army, and part of the reason is Army got after them defensively.

Yes, it is hard to get pressure on a shot-gun formation QB who likes to fire the ball within two seconds. But you’ve got to pressure him anyway.

One of the most frustrating things in BYU’s two-game losing streak is the lack of disruption by BYU’s front seven. It’s simply ugly. Good passers given four or five seconds to throw are going to look like All-Americans and set records. That’s been BYU’s defense.

Come Saturday, it is critical for both teams to have their defenses make plays. For the Cougars, who have scored just one touchdown in the first quarter all season, it is imperative to get off to a quick start. If that first possession sputters out, the defense has to make a stop and reload the offense.

So far, expecting BYU to make a comeback from a pair of touchdowns back is unfathomable.

So, come Saturday, the QBs will be interesting, but one of these defenses has to do the dirty work and win the game.

This week’s games:

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  • USC 31, Colorado 24: Trojans have grown up.
  • Ohio State 42, Minnesota 28: Urban Meyer’s guys flexing.
  • Washington 34, Oregon 28: Chris Petersen has it figured out.
  • Penn State 27, Michigan State 21: PSU has more offense.
  • Utah State 38, UNLV 27: Jordan Love continues to impress.
  • Miami 27, Virginia 24: Too much speed for Bronco.
  • Wisconsin 17, Michigan 14: Key win for Badgers.
  • Fresno State 21, Wyoming 17: Bulldogs have more weapons.
  • Boise State 38, Nevada 27: Broncos put SDSU behind them.
  • North Dakota 24, Montana 21: Better bundle up.
  • Southern Utah 28, Sacramento State 21: Thunderbird’s soar.
  • Weber State 28, Eastern Washington 21: Go Jay Hill.
  • BYU 38, Hawaii 34: Cougars better rack up numbers.

Last week: 9 of 14; overall 57 of 84 (.678)