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2011 BYU Preview – Defense
BYU NT Romney Fuga
BYU NT Romney Fuga
Posted May 18, 2011 2011 Preview - BYU Cougar Defense

BYU Cougars

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 BYU Preview | 2011 BYU Offense
- 2011 BYU Defense | 2011 BYU Depth Chart
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What You Need To Know: The defense wasn’t getting the job done early last year, and while the offense was a night-and-day bigger issue, the problems were enough to get defensive coordinator Jaime Hill canned. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the duties, and the results were better with more takeaways over the final five games of the season and with better production against the run. BYU allowed 1,296 rushing yards and 13 scores over the first five games, and allowed a mere 506 yards and one score over the last eight games. Now the production should be even better with a terrific front three returning and a deep and tough linebacking corps that’ll make up for its shortcomings by throwing waves of players into the equation. The secondary will be fine with a little time, but the deep group has to come up with a solid starting foursome early on. Everyone can hit and it’s a versatile backfield, and the production should be terrific with more of a pass rush from the veteran front seven.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brandon Ogletree, 49
Sacks: Eathyn Manumaleuna, 3.5
Interceptions: Jameson Frazier, Brandon Ogletree, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jordan Pendleton
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore S Daniel Sorensen
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Uona Kaveinga
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Romney Fuga
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Pendleton, 2) LB Brandon Ogletree, 3) S Daniel Sorensen
Strength of the defense: Depth, Line
Weakness of the defense: Secondary Experience, Takeaways

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The defensive line did a decent job against the run, but it wasn’t exactly the brick wall it should’ve been. The pass rush was non-existent way too often, and there weren’t enough plays behind the line against the better teams, but there’s hope for a bit more production with all three starters back and tremendous size among the reserves.

Junior Romney Fuga is a tough 6-2, 307-pound junior who beefed up a bit and was supposed to be the anchor and run stuffer in the middle, but he suffered a knee injury in the fourth game of the year and finished with just 15 tackles with a half a tackle for loss. He won’t always carry the load by himself, but he’s too strong and too tough to be off the field when he’s healthy. He’ll be backed up by 6-2, 316-pound redshirt freshman Travis Tuiloma a big interior presence from Kansas who was wanted by several Big 12 schools along with Tennessee. He can move, but his job will be to stop the run.

Back at left end is 6-6, 271-pound senior Matt Putnam, a decent big body who went from being a good back up to a starter, trying to replace Jan Jorgensen, but he was merely average making 31 tackles with two sacks and five tackles for loss in his increased role. A good athlete with nice size, he as the tools to become a dangerous pass rusher, and he’s built for the 3-4, but now he has to do more, while 6-4, 261-pound sophomore Graham Rowley will get every shot to take over the starting job throughout the year. At the very least he’ll be in the rotation after showing decent promise despite making just three tackles with a sack. The motor is always running.

Junior Eathyn Manumaleuna has spent time at defensive tackle but will get most of his work in at right end. The 6-2, 295-pounder started every game as a freshman on the nose before leaving for two years on a mission, and he did a decent job last year making 27 tackles with 2.5 sacks with a pick, and while it would be nice if he was a pass rusher, his job is to use his big body to clog things up. The Alaskan is mostly known for blocking UCLA’s game-winning field goal attempt in BYU’s 2007 Las Vegas Bowl win. 6-3, 271-pound junior Jordan Richardson needs to be a pass rusher after only registering two quarterback hurries to go along with 17 tackles. The former superstar Idaho wrestler is a mauler, and he’s an academic all-star, but the line needs him to be more disruptive no matter where he plays up front.

Watch Out For … Fuga to make a big difference. There are bigger BYU linemen, and there are more active once, but the line is different, and far better, when Fuga is healthy.
Strength: Mature veterans. BYU always has an advantage because of the mature bodies developed after years of church missions, and nowhere is that a plus more than on the line. With three starters returning, and Richardson like another starter, this is a veteran bunch that knows what it’s doing.
Weakness: The parts. The whole will be better than the sum. There isn’t a lot of top-shelf talent up front, and while the Cougar line will be fine and serviceable, it’ll be better as a unit. Any one player on this line can be erased by a focused blocking scheme.
Outlook: The loss of pass rusher Vic So’oto will hurt, and now a true pass rusher has to emerge from one of the three spots. The key to the line will be the waves with a great rotation at all three positions and with good size. This won’t be a great line, but it’ll be a very good one just because of all the veteran live bodies to work with.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: The linebackers were okay, but they suffered some key injuries and didn’t do quite enough to be disruptive. Now that a few of the key parts are back and healthy, there’s reason to be excited with a strong, deep corps that should be terrific at times. A lack of proven veterans was a problem going into last year, but that’s not an issue this year with so many good players ready to use in a strong rotation.

The biggest key to the linebacking corps, and maybe the defense, is the return of senior Jordan Pendleton after suffering a shoulder injury. He only played in six games before getting hurt, but he was a difference maker with 38 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Now the 6-2, 239-pound strongside defender is back, healthy, and will be turned loose. A former defensive back, he was named one of Utah’s best high school athletes, and now he’ll fly around to make things happen all over the field.

While Pendleton isn’t going to get off the field all that often, spot-starter Kyle Van Noy will be a part of the rotation after making 35 tackles with two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss as a key reserve and with two starts. The 6-3, 219-pound sophomore had issues in the past with an alcohol-related incident, but that’s all cleared up and now he can work anywhere on the outside. A strong athlete, he caught 18 touchdowns pass his senior year of high school and was a sprinter on the track team.

The weakside situation will be interesting with two starters combining forces, but both players will see time elsewhere in the corps. 6-2, 225-pound senior Jameson Frazier is trying to get over a broken thumb to be the main man in space after making 34 tackles with a sack, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two picks. Strong enough and tough enough to play on the strongside if needed, he can do a little of everything for the linebacking corps with good speed and the burst to get into the backfield. 6-4, 246-pound senior Jaden Wagner adds more size to the position, and while he’s built more for the inside, he can move on the outside. A nine-game starter, he made 38 tackles with a sack and seven tackles for loss.

Manning the middle will be 5-11, 255-pound junior Uona Kaveinga, a short, thickly built defender who’s built for the position. A great recruit for USC, he wasn’t used as much more than a special teamer and ended up transferring over to BYU, and now he’s ready after sitting out last year in the transition. Fast, tough, and talented, he’ll be one of the team’s top three tacklers, while 6-2, 235-pound junior Austin Jorgensen has the potential to step in and shine whenever needed. A spot starter and key reserve, he came up with 46 tackles with a sack. Extremely smart, having been recruited hard by Harvard and Princeton, he’s a good, sound player with good enough athleticism to see time somewhere in the corps.

Bringing the pass rush from the fourth linebacker position, the hybrid spot, is junior Brandon Ogletree a 5-11, 225-pound academic all-star who went from being a strong special teamer to a dangerous all-around playmaker finishing fourth on the team with 49 tackles with five tackles for loss and two picks. He’s not all that big, but he’s a flash into the backfield when needed and is strong against the pass. Recruited by places like Arkansas and Oklahoma State, he had his pick of several BCS schools and now he could be the team’s best defender. He’ll combine forces with sophomore Spencer Hadley, a 6-1, 221-pounder who served mostly as a special teamer a few years ago before going on a church mission. A former high school receiver, he’s fast with good all-around athleticism to be used a pass rusher.

Watch Out For … Kaveinga. The former USC Trojan is built to be a leading tackler who can dominate against the run. He’s not going to get into the backfield all that often, partly because that’s not his job, but he’ll come up with every stop needed.
Strength: Depth. The starting foursome is more than fine, but the backups can all step in and produce just as well when needed. Hadley, Van Noy, Jorgensen, and Wagner could form a starting foursome and come through.
Weakness: Big plays. All the experience and all the depth has to translate into more big plays and more takeaways. Last year’s group had a few good pass rushers, but a few more forced fumbles and a few more key stops would be nice.
Outlook: A bit of a concern last year, now the linebacking corps could be the team’s biggest strength with a phenomenal rotation of talents. There’s size, athleticism, depth, and versatility with Pendleton, Frazier, and Ogletree all promising playmakers, and Kaveinga a promising newcomer who should make a ton of stops with everything funneled his way.
Unit Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: The pass defense was technically fantastic last season, finishing 23rd in the nation and 32nd in pass efficiency defense, but it’s not like it had to face a slew of killer passing games. The teams with real, live quarterbacks – Washington’s Jake Locker, TCU’s Andy Dalton and San Diego State’s Ryan Lindley – threw at will, but late in the year the interceptions started to come. The secondary picked off 16 passes on the year with 13 coming in the final five games. The star was safety Andrew Rich, who finished with five picks, but he needs to be replaced and no returning defensive back came up with a pick last season.

With Rich and his team-leading 110 tackles gone, senior Travis Uale has to pick up the slack. The starting free safety made 42 tackles, but he didn’t do anything when the ball was in the air. An all-star in the classroom, he’s smart and he has 6-2, 197-pound size and good quickness, but he has to be more of a playmakers, while 5-10, 220-pound junior Mike Hague will move over from the offensive side after catching five passes for 43 yards and running four times for 12 yards. The former running back is thick and quick, and now he needs to learn the job.

6-2, 200-pound sophomore Daniel Sorensen will take over at the Kat position with Rich gone, and now that he’s back from a church mission, he should be ready to be a major factor. He came up with 17 tackles with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2008 as a true freshman, and now he has the potential to be one of the team’s top tacklers with size and great range. Sophomore Jrei Galea’i is a great-looking prospect who got hit feet with four tackles and a fumble recovery in a limited role. One of the nation’s top defensive back prospects two years ago, he’s fast, active, and has the hitting ability to quickly grow into a star with a little more time.

The combination junior Robbie Buckner and redshirt freshman Jordan Johnson will take over at the field corner spot. The 5-10, 176-pound Buckner hasn’t done much of anything yet, but the former Arkansas state champion sprinter has the wheels to become a lock-down player with a little more time. However, he’ll have to fight off Johnson, a 5-10, 175-pounder with great quickness and nice potential. He’s not the most talented of corners, but he can move.

Working at the Boundary corner job will be senior Corby Eason and Preston Hadley. The 5-8, 172-pound Eason has been a regular special teamer, but he has great speed and nice skills. He was a backup last year making 22 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, being sent into the backfield like he was shot out of a cannon, and now he has to show he can lock down on the outside. The 6-0, 200-pound Handley has excellent size, and now the JUCO transfer from Snow College should be a big hitter and a physical factor on the outside. He’ll be better in run support than in coverage, but he’s good enough to become a nice part of the rotation.

Watch Out For … Sorensen. He started to show a little of his potential a few years ago when he got into the equation right away, and now that he’s matured physically and has the smarts for the Kat, he should be a statistical superstar.
Strength: Size. This is a decent-sized secondary with strong corners and the type of safeties that can beat people up. The backups are big enough to get physical when they come in, and the starters can hit.
Weakness: Picks. And the proven production is there from … ? It’s not like the defensive backs are taking throws away left and right until the mediocre teams on the schedule started to give them away late, and now all the interception production is gone with the graduation of Rich.
Outlook: It’s a stretch to call this a weakness, but only one starter returns and there’s work to be done to find the right combination. There should be a good rotation at all four spots, and the coaching staff might spend the first half of the season tinkering, but there’s promise and potential to be decent if the pass rush can help the cause.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

State of the Unit: Gone is Mitch Payne after nailing 17-of-21 kicks, and while he had decent range, he topped out at just inside the 50. Now it’ll be up to sophomore Justin Sorensen to take over after seeing a little time in 2008. Back from his church mission, he needs to show off his big leg early on, and while he can bomb, just being effective from 45 yards and in will be enough.

The punting game was good, and junior Riley Stephenson did his part averaging 42 yards per kick and putting 20 inside the 20. An all-star with the leg to blast his way out of any jams, he’s a good veteran who knows what he’s doing and should be even more consistent.

Sophomore J.D. Falslev did a decent job taking over the punt return game, averaging a solid 9.1 yards per try, and he’ll get his chances on kickoff returns, too. However, Cody Hoffman will be the main man after averaging 27.1 yards per try.

Watch Out For … Sorensen to increase the range. Payne was very good and very consistent, but he wasn’t going to do anything from beyond 50. Sorensen will get his chances to bomb away.
Strength: Stephenson. An all-star, he might not be a Ray Guy finalist, but he’s ultra-consistent and effective and is great at putting the ball inside the 20. Sorensen will be a plus.
Weakness: Kick coverage. The Cougars were miserable at covering kicks allowing 23.1 yards per try, but the punt coverage was decent allowing just 5.2 yards per try.
Outlook: The special teams will be fine, but nothing spectacular. The kicking game will be a plus and the return game will be decent, but the kickoff coverage team needs to improve after struggling for the last few years.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2011 BYU Preview | 2011 BYU Offense
- 2011 BYU Defense | 2011 BYU Depth Chart
- BYU Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006