2007 BYU Preview - Defense

Posted May 9, 2007

Preview 2007 BYU Cougars Defense

BYU Cougars

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 BYU Preview | 2007 BYU Offense Preview
2007 BYU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN BYU Preview 

What you need to know: This won't be the best defense in the Mountain West, but it'll be good enough to win with. The 3-3-5 was replaced by the 3-4 last year with tremendous results. Now the production should be there again with a big front three, led by end Jan Jorgensen, and a good linebacking corps that needs Kelly Poppinga to be the main man in the middle in place of Cameron Jensen. The safeties, Dustin Gabriel and Quinn Gooch, are as good as any in the conference, but the corners are nothing special.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Robert Herbert, 72
Sacks: Jesse Nading, 4
Interceptions: Robert Herbert, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Kelly Poppinga
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Ben Criddle
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Shawn Doman
Best pro prospect: Sophomore DE Jan Jorgensen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Poppinga, 2) Jorgensen, 3) FS Quinn Gooch
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, overall experience
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The leader of the veteran line will be 6-3, 260-pound sophomore, Jan Jorgensen, who had a nice first season making 34 tackles and five sacks. He's a good athlete who managed to become the team's most consistent threat on the end, and now the line will revolve around him.

Starting on the nose is Russell Tialavea, a 6-3, 300-pond sophomore who has the potential to become an all-star once he puts it all together. He made 22 tackles and three tackles for loss, but he has too much quickness and athleticism to not be in the backfield on a more regular basis.

Sophomore Ian Dulan will get the nod on the left side, but at 274 pounds, he's more like another tackle. He made seven tackles before injuring his leg halfway through the season. While he won't be much of a pass rusher, he'll be good against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-5, 270-pound senior, Judd Anderton, is a career reserve who made 16 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss. He's been around long enough to be a solid backup on the right side behind Jorgensen, and an occasional pass rusher who can occasionally be a disruptive force.

251-pound sophomore, Brett Denney, will play behind Dulan on the left side, but he's a big step down. While he has the potential to be a pass rusher, he still needs time to develop into an all-around defender.

6-0, 270-pound junior Mosese Foketi was a key JUCO transfer last year who redshirted, and now will be a smaller, but strong backup behind Tialavea in the middle. 

Watch Out For ... the reserves to see plenty of work early on to get their feet wet. Denney and Foketi need time to figure out what they're doing.
Size. The 3-4 basically relies on the linemen to be tackles and stop the run, and if they get into the backfield on a regular basis, that's a major bonus. With big backups ready to rotate in, this should be a tough group to push around for a full sixty minutes.
A second pass rusher to help Jorgensen. One will emerge, but who will it be? Dulan isn't quite the type, but Denney has potential. Someone needs to take the pressure of Jorgensen.
Outlook: While there won't be much in the way of big plays in the backfield, this should be a good front three that'll hold up against everyone in the Mountain West. The departure of players due to graduation and church missions have weakened the group, but it'll still be productive.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: Who'll replace heart-and-soul playmaker, Cameron Jensen? It appears to be senior Kelly Poppinga, who made 36 tackles and two sacks on the outside, and now will get the start in the middle.
The brother of former BYU star, Brady Poppinga, made an impact coming over from Utah State, and now he'll be use his toughness, along with his 240-pound size, to be one of the team's top tacklers.

Also on the inside in the 3-4 will be 219-pound sophomore Shawn Doman after a good true freshman season. He only made 14 tackles, but he showed big-time potential with good speed and range.

231-pound senior, Bryan Kehl, will start on the strongside, and could play on the weakside if needed. He made 70 tackles and turned into a good pass rusher with three sacks and eight tackles for loss. With good speed and smarts, along with his size, he's also excellent against the pass.

Junior David Nixon had a nice year finishing fifth on the team with 62 tackles and three sacks along with a team-leading 10.5 tackles for loss. With excellent 4.5 speed and a good sense of timing, he's a dangerous weakside defender who's great in space.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Terrance Hooks has the potential to be a top tackler somewhere in the corps as soon as he gets back from a one-game suspension for his involvement in the incident with tight end Vic So'oto when they were arrested this off-season after two people hit his girlfriend with a water balloon. On the field, he's a good, tough playmaker on the inside behind Poppinga with 18 tackles last year.

248-pound senior Chris Bolden redshirted after coming in from the JUCO ranks, and then made ten tackles as a reserve. He's a great tackler who brings tremendous size to the weakside behind Nixon.

Watch Out For ... Poppinga to be Jensen, part two. 100 tackles and tremendous leadership should come from the senior as he goes from good to big-time.
Options among the starters. The coaching staff is able to use the 4-3, as opposed to a 3-3-5, because of all the possibilities and all the prospects at linebacker. Kehl and Nixon can play either outside position, while Poppinga is an outside linebacker playing in the middle.
Outside backups. Matt Bauman and Chris Bolden are fine, but they're a big step down from Kehl and Nixon. Until they prove they can be steady playmakers in the rotation, they won't push for starting time.
Outlook: Losing a player like Jensen is never a plus, but Poppinga will be good, Kehl and Nixon will be terrors in the backfield, and Doman has promise on the inside. The coaching staff wants to do what it can to get all the talent on the field; the corps will be a plus as the season goes on.
Rating: 7.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters:
The early concern going into the fall will be at corner, where someone has to emerge as a number one. Senior Ben Criddle appeared to be close to being that player, but he had problems with a toe injury throughout spring ball. A decent starter last year making 53 tackles and two interceptions, he has experience and toughness. Want-to isn't the issue for the former walk-on, shutting down a top receiver is.

On the other side will be senior Kayle Buchanan, who made five tackles in a limited role. He has the size at 6-1 and 191 pounds, but he's not going to erase a number one receiver out of the game plan.

The safeties are set with senior Dustin Gabriel at the KAT, BYU's version of a strong safety, while senior Quinn Gooch will start again at free safety. Gooch is a tackling machine with 66 stops last season, to go along with two interceptions. With a year of starting experience under his belt, he'll make more plays getting even more license to roam. Gabriel is a 213-pound hitter who made 37 tackles, and now he has to do more when the ball is in the air. He's almost like a smallish outside linebacker playing safety.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Brandon Howard will combine with Buchanon at the field corner spot, While he's not as big and doesn't have much in the way of experience, he's one of the team's fastest players and can keep up with the speed receivers Buchanan can't.

Senior David Tafuna made 15 tackles as part of the cornerback rotation, and has a little bit of starting experience. He'll play behind Gooch at free safety as a bigger hitter, but without the same range.

Watch Out For ... the corner situation to be up in the air all season long. This is a serviceable group of corners; it's not special.
Hitting safeties. Gooch and Gabriel can pop, and Tafuna is big enough to apply some lumber. They don't miss tackles.
Number one corner. Criddle makes more than his share of plays, but he's limited. Buchanan is unproven against top-shelf receivers.
Outlook: The secondary mostly gave up yards to teams in desperation comeback mode, but it did fine at keeping the short-to-midrange passers under wraps. As long as the corners can keep everything in front of them, and as long as the safeties can concentrate on being all-around playmakers and not have to provide a ton of help on the deep passes, the overall numbers will be fine.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters:
It'll be the Mitch Payne show taking over for kicker Jared McLaughlin, who hit 14 of 18 field goals, and punter Derek McLaughlin, who averaged 40.9 yards per kick. Payne's a redshirt freshman with a solid, consistent leg in all areas with range at around 50 yards on field goals and around 40 yards a kick on punts. As long as all the work doesn't become overwhelming, he'll be a decent replacement.

Watch Out For ... Payne to be solid. He might not be a star right away, but he'll eventually be really, really good as either a punter or a kicker. The team just hopes he can really handle all the pressure.
Coverage units. BYU did a good job of keeping the big kick returners under wraps, and this should be a strength once again.
Proven returners. Curtis Brown was the main man on kickoffs, while Nathan Meikle handled the punts. It'll be a work in progress.
Outlook: The special teams were just part of last year's great season proving to be every bit as good as the other areas of the team. Now they'll undergo a major overhaul, and while they likely won't be as strong, they'll be better than most.
Rating: 6


Related Stories
2007 BYU Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 8, 2007
2007 BYU Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 8, 2007
Cougar Conversations: Rick Wolfley
 -by TotalBlueSports.com  May 4, 2007

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