2013 BYU Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - BYU Cougar Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The defense went from excellent in 2011 to phenomenal in 2012 allowing just two 300-yard passing days and giving up a mere five touchdown runs. Of those five, two came in the blowout win over Weber State and two more came against Notre Dame. The pass rush was phenomenal with linebacker Kyle Van Noy leading the way, and now he's back for what should be an All-America season on the weakside. The secondary should be a strength again with three returning starters including big-hitting safety Daniel Sorensen and corner Jordan Johnson, but help is needed from a revamped front line that has to replace Ezekiel Ansah and nose tackle Romney Fuga. The D won't finish third in the nation in total and scoring defense again, but it'll be very, very good.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Kyle Van Noy
Tackles: Daniel Sorensen, 68
Sacks: Kyle Van Noy, 13
Interceptions: Daniel Sorensen, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DE Bronson Kaufusi
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Remington Peck
Best pro prospect: Van Noy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Van Noy, 2) S Daniel Sorensen, 3) LB Spencer Hadley
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Proven Ends, Veteran Inside Linebackers
And here's the problem. The great defense started with the big performances up front, but the line loses top NFL prospect Ezekiel Ansah and tough tackle Romney Fuga from the nose. That means 6-2, 294-pound senior Eathyn Manumaleuna who'll move from the outside in. He got the call to start last season on the left side making 11 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss before getting knocked out for the year with a knee injury. With an extra year, now he's back to be a physical and quick anchor in the interior. He'll be backed up by the rotation of 6-2, 321-pound junior Marques Johnson, a massive JUCO transfer who can get off the ball in a hurry and get into the backfield, and Tuni Kanuch, a 6-1, 285-pound freshman who could move outside to end.
6-7, 270-pound sophomore Bronson Kaufusi is a very big, very smart end who showed last year that he's ready to become a big-time pass rusher after making 23 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 5.5 sacks in his limited time. A nice part of the rotation, now the left side the line is his backed up by 6-4, 240-pound sophomore Michael Doman, who saw a little bit of work against Weber State and brings good quickness and a nice first step. Former tight end Austin Holt has the 6-5 and 250-pound size and good athleticism in the rotation.
6-4, 250-pound sophomore Remington Peck came to BYU as a receiving tight end but turned into a pass rushing end. He saw a little bit of time last season making nine tackles with a sack, doing most of his work in the opener against Washington State, and now he'll rotate with 6-2, 240-pound sophomore Logan Taele, a scout teamer who can fly off the ball and become a pass rushing specialist with a little bit of time.
Watch Out For … JUCO transfer Kalolo Utu. The 6-2, 285-pounder was a nice pickup who returns from his mission to become a dangerous pass rusher no matter where he works. While he's built like a tackle, he's quick and athletic with the ability to play anywhere up front.
Strength: Activity. The line has several big, quick options backed up by big, quick options who can all get into the backfield and all swarm around the ball. The run defense was phenomenal last season because the most of the teams it played couldn't actually run, but the front three did its part. However …
Weakness: Fuga and Ansah. There's a reason NFL teams are all frothing at the mouth at the chance to get Ansah, a freak of nature athlete with size, speed and a world of skill. Fuga isn't anywhere near the same sort of prospect, but he was the key part to the front three on the nose making 42 tackles. BYU has players, but those two will be sorely missed.
Outlook: Once again, BYU will be able to come up with several big bodies who can move around well enough to dominate against the run. The pass rush will come from all three spots as well as from the linebackers, and this year it'll take a good rotation to gum up the works. The stats will be fine, but the line won't be as good.
Unit Rating: 7
For some reason, Kyle Van Noy decided to return for his senior season. The 6-3, 235-pound senior weakside playmaker might not have NFL bulk, but he's the type of premier pass rusher the pro types salivate over with a phenomenal closing burst and an uncanny knack of always being around the ball. He was the team's most dangerous threat in the backfield making 13 sacks with 22 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and 53 tackles, but it was his bowl performance against San Diego State that made his great season something truly special with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a blocked kick and two touchdowns including a 17-yard pick six. A disruptive force, he's an elite athlete who came to BYU as a star receiver and sprinter, and he's putting it all together as one of the nation's top outside linebackers.
Van Noy is the star of the show, but 6-1, 227-pound senior Spencer Hadley is a decent all-around veteran on the strongside making 55 tackles with 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. A huge hitter, he was a good, sound tackler on the inside before taking over the job outside, and while he's not Van Noy, he's rock solid. 6-5, 215-pound junior Alani Fua is an interesting option on the strongside behind Hadley, making 13 tackles with a pick his limited role. He brings an intriguing set of tools with the talent to see more time, while 6-0, 236-pound sophomore Jherremya Leuta-Douyere is a big athlete working behind Van Noy. A pass rusher, he didn't do much last season, but he can get into the backfield.
The inside loses star tacklers Brandon Ogletree and Uona Kaveinga, but 6-1, 233-pound senior Uani Unga is a nice-looking veteran who should be a statistical superstar in place of Kaveinga in the middle. Unga produced whenever he got his chances showing off great range and toughness against the run coming up with 28 tackles with a sack, a pick and three tackles for loss. He'll combine forces on the inside with 6-1, 220-pound senior Tyler Beck, an undersized option who got a little time on the field but only made one tackle last season. Athletic, he moves well and cuts on a dime, but he has to prove he can hold up if he can get the starting job. 6-1, 235-pound sophomore Manoa Piluka should be the better option at the Buck position with better size and bigger hitting ability, making nine tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss in limited time in his first season.
Watch Out For … Trajan Pili. A high school defensive end, he's a tremendous athlete who should grow into a pass rusher. Not only was he a key part of his high school defense, but he also worked as a receiver as well. He'll eventually become a dangerous outside defender.
Strength: Outside linebacker. Van Noy is an All-American and Hadley, in Van Noy's shadow, is extremely underappreciated and underrated. These two can fly into the backfield and they'll be the cornerstone of the strong defense.
Weakness: Inside linebacker. The stats will be there and Unga, Pikula and Beck will be fine, but Ogletree was terrific as the team's leading tackler, and Kaveinga was rock-solid at the Buck position. There's a step down.
Outlook: The linebacking corps might not be as strong as it was last season, but the stats will still be fantastic and Van Noy and Hadley are as good as any outside tandem in America. It'll be a strength-in-numbers situation on the inside with a good rotation to keep everyone fresh. As long as the line comes up with a decent season like it did last year – which will be tough with some key new players in the mix – the linebackers will do their job.
Unit Rating: 8
Helped by a terrific pass rush, the secondary was fantastic last season, and with Preston Hadley gone at one corner, junior Jordan Johnson has to shine again on the field side after making 48 tackles with a 64-yard interception in the opener against Washington State and 15 broken up passes. At 5-10 and 185 pounds he's not huge, but he's extremely quick and has a nice nose for the ball making big plays when it's in the air.
Johnson be the No. 1 corner, while it'll be up to 5-10, 190-pound senior Mike Hague to take over for Hadley on the boundary side. Mostly a special teamer so far, he made six tackles with a broken up pass before getting knocked out for the year with a calf injury. He's quick and has good range, but he has to prove he can handle the full-time role after spending time throughout his career as a safety option. He'll work in a rotation with freshman Jacob Hannemann, who brings more size to the mix. A baseball player for BYU, he's a talented all-around athlete and a good banger. 5-11, 180-pound senior Adam Hogan came in from the JUCO ranks, but he didn't do anything. He'll back up Johnson.
Senior Daniel Sorensen has been around for a long, long, time, making 61 tackles a few years ago and finishing second on the team with 68 stops with a team-leading three picks and five broken up passes. At 6-2 and 206 pounds he's big with great range and a nice ability to be in the right spot at the right time. Instinctive, he's mature, smart and doesn't take a wasted step at the Kat – strong safety – position. 6-1, 182-pound sophomore Michael Wadsworth redshirted last year, but he has good size and nice range as a backup to Sorensen, while 6-2, 209-pound junior Craig Bills will return to his free safety spot after making 47 tackles with five broken up passes. He started the final five games last season highlighted by a ten-stop day against San Jose State and with six tackles and two broken up passes in the bowl victory over San Diego State.
Watch Out For … Trenton Trammell. The JUCO transfer is trying to come back from a torn ACL, but when he's healthy, he'll be one of the team's fastest and athletic corners. At 6-0 and 190 pounds, he has decent size and exceptional ball skills breaking up 19 passes for City College of San Francisco.
Strength: Veterans. Hague should be fine stepping into a starting corner role and he should make teams pay for going away from Johnson. Sorensen and Bills are solid safeties, and Johnson is growing into an excellent all-around corner who can lock down one side.
Weakness: Teams that can actually throw the ball. The overall stats were fantastic, but Oregon State could throw, and it did with 332 yards in the win. San Jose State could throw, and it did with 305 yards against San Jose State in the win. The secondary did a terrific job against the all-pass Washington State team in the opener, but for the most part, the production wasn't as strong as the production. Of the 12 picks, just two came in the five losses.
Outlook: The secondary has been terrific over the last few years allowing just three 300-yard games in two seasons, and if the pass rush is as strong as in 2012, it should be a plus again. The safeties will make plenty of big plays if Sorensen is Sorensen again, while Johnson is a playmaking corner and one of the team's biggest keys. This won't be a spectacular group, but it'll be terrific.
Unit Rating: 7.5
In a huge loss, punter Riley Stephenson is done after averaging 45.4 yards per try with a whopping 30 kicks put inside the 20. Getting the first crack at the gig is junior Scott Arellano a good-sized JUCO transfer with a nice leg and the maturity to handle the work.
The kicking game needs more out of Justin Sorensen after he connected on just six of 12 field goals and showed no range. He had a back problem before the season and was never the same after hitting 5-of-8 kicks from 40-to-49 yards out in 2011 and showing enough range to be tried out from 50. After starting out his career in 2008 he's mature, but he has to be healthy and better.
JD Falsev is back as the main return man after doing a decent job on punts with 9.5 yards per try and doing a terrific job on kickoffs averaging 26 yards per pop.
Watch Out For … Sorensen to be better. Consistency has been a huge issue over the last two seasons hitting 21-of-37 field goals, but he's been hurt. If he can get healthy everything will be fine.
Strength: Falsev. It's not like the return game is explosive, but it's effective enough to be solid with Falsev a terrific kickoff returner and a good enough punt returner to get by.
Weakness: Extra points. The Cougars were shockingly mediocre on the chippies with Sorensen missing three and Stephenson also missing three. A better kicking game probably would've meant wins over Utah and Notre Dame.
Outlook: The special teams have been a bit flaky, and now it's a concern with Stephenson gone from the nation's second-best punting game. The placekicking could be fine if Sorensen is healthy and Falsev is a great returner, but the punting has to come around and the coverage teams could stand to be stronger.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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