Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
After finishing tenth in the nation and ninth in points allowed,
the defense took a major step back struggling mightily as the
year went on. Everything was great early on with shutouts of
Wyoming and UCLA while holding New Mexico to three points, and
then came the second half of the year. The D failed to generate
any pressure, there weren't enough big plays, and the Cougars
lost three of their final seven games. This year, the front
seven in the 3-4 is loaded with depth and skill with Jan
Jorgensen leading a great looking line and Matt Bauman a strong
tackler in the middle of the linebacking corps. The biggest
issue is at corner where the depth is thin and there needs to be
more production against the better passing teams. The safeties
should help pick up the slack with Scott Johnson and Andrew Rich
in for big seasons.
Tackles: Matt Bauman, 108
Sacks: Jan Jorgensen, 4
Interceptions: Jordan Pendleton, Matt Putnam, Andrew Rich, 1
Star of the defense:
Senior DE Jan Jorgensen
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Junior SS Andrew Rich
Best pro prospect: Jorgensen
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jorgensen, 2) LB Matt
Bauman, 3) LB Coleby Clawson
Strength of the defense: Line, Depth In The Front Seven
Weakness of the defense: Corner, Production
If it weren't for Jerry Hughes at TCU,
senior Jan Jorgensen would be getting all the
attention as the Mountain West's premiere end. The 6-3,
259-pound senior will be starting for the fourth straight season
after making 54 tackles with five sacks and 8.5 tackles for
loss. While he was good, he wasn't the dominant pass rusher he
was in previous years making 14 sacks in 2007. He trimmed down a
little bit in an attempt to get quicker, and with his quickness,
motor, and experience, he'll be the leader of the line and a
sure-thing all-star who'll demand double-teaming on every play.
Back on the right side will be Brett Denney, a
6-4, 252-pound senior who came up with a nice year with all the
attention paid to Jorgensen. He only made 1.5 sacks, but he made
eight tackles for loss and 37 tackles; he has the ability to do
more. He should be more of a pass rusher and he should be one of
the leaders of the line with his experience. While he might not
have star talent, he's good enough to do more.
Adding some mega-bulk on the inside is 6-3, 352-pound junior
Rick Wolfley, a true tackle who'll try to clog
things up. He only made four tackles last year
and now will be used a lot more in pure running downs and
against the more physical offenses. Now he goes from being a key
backup to the main man in the middle after Russell Tialavea
chose to serve his Church mission.
Projected Top Reserves: Former JUCO superstar
Bernard Afuiti is built like a smallish nose
tackle at 6-1 and 262 pounds, but he can move. Originally
recruited by USC and Michigan, among other places, the junior is
a speed rusher behind Jorgensen and can be a major factor if the
defense goes into a 4-3. Amazing throughout spring ball, he'll
be too good to keep off the field ... next year. He was ruled
academically ineligible and won't be able to play until next
6-6, 267-pound sophomore Matt Putnam spent the
last year getting bigger and stronger after being a key
contributor last year with 27 tackles, two sacks, and three
tackles for loss. Athletic and able to be used as a regular pass
rusher and a good backup behind Denney, he's good enough to
The man in the middle that everything was supposed to work around
Russell Tialavea, a 6-3, 286-pound senior who
came off a torn ACL to make 17 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss
as a starter. On the plus side, the injury allowed him to get
into better overall shape, and now he's leaner, stronger, and
should be better. However, he chose to leave and serve his
Watch Out For ...
Putnam to make a big push. He's not going to knock out Jorgensen
and Denney from starting spots on the end, but he's way too good to be kept off the field. They were strong
enough this offseason to warrant a longer look and more time.
Strength: The end rotation. With the emergence of Putnam, at least
his expected emergence, the ends should
be terrific. Jorgensen is too good to have another mediocre
year, while Denney has big-time pass rushing ability and the
potential to be fantastic. That means there needs to be a lot
Weakness: Plays in the backfield. The Cougars don't make plays
behind the line, at least not enough of them. A problem two
years ago, it was a big issue last year, too, coming with just
22 sacks and 71 tackles for loss.
Outlook: Big and talented the defensive
front three should be doing far more in all phases. It was
mediocre against the run, average when it came to generating
pressure, and disappointing overall. There's no excuse this time
around, outside of Afutiti's academics and Tialavea's Church
mission, with a star in Jorgensen to work around and with the
depth to come up with a fantastic rotation.
Senior Matt Bauman can
play just about anywhere in the linebacking corps, and after
serving as a great reserve over the first part of his career, he
showed what he could do as the main man in the middle leading
the team with 108 tackles with two sacks and 8.5 tackles for
loss. He's coming off a minor knee injury that requires some
work, but he should be fine by the start of the year and he
should do even more. If last year was about establishing himself
on the inside, now he's ready to become a bigger and better
Also returning to a starting spot is
Coleby Clawson on the weakside. A good JUCO transfer
with excellent range and a good ability to get into the
backfield, he was one of the few Cougars who got behind the line
on a regular basis with 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks to
go along with 55 tackles. Extremely consistent, he should be
more explosive with so many good veterans returning on the front
6-2, 232-pound senior Shawn Doman
technically started for most of last year but he ended
up being a part of a rotation as the fourth linebacker. He was
fourth on the team with 60 tackles, but he didn't do enough to
make big plays even though he has the athleticism and the speed
to be a star at the Buck position. He knows what he's doing.
Sophomore Jordan Pendleton will take over
on the strongside and should be one of the team's most
interesting defenders. The former safety and corner was named
one of the best athletes in Utah in high school and should fly
around and be a disruptive force. He beefed up to 228 pounds on
his 6-2 frame, but he can still move. A disappointment in his
first season, making just three tackles with an interception, he
has the motor and the quickness to flourish in his new role.
Projected Top Reserves:
Will Vic So'oto ever pay
off? A superstar recruit for the program as a tight end, he
moved over to linebacker and made five tackles in two games
before suffering a broken foot. Out throughout the offseason, he
needs to come back healthy to become a major factor on the
weakside. At 6-3 and 253 pounds he has the size, and he has the
athleticism, and now he has to finally produce and live up to
his tremendous expectations.
227-pound senior Terrance Hooks is finally back
from a knee injury that kept him under wraps for most of last
year. He only made one tackle in his one game of action, but
when he's right, he has the speed and athleticism to become a
major factor at the Buck position. Expected to be the starter
before the injury, now he'll rotate with Doman.
Watch Out For ...
the Buck. Hooks might be the best player for the job, but he has
to show he can hold up. Doman was too good last year to simply
toss aside, or ditch a bulk of his playing time. It's a position
that should generate a ton of big plays, so the more explosive,
disruptive playmaker will get the gig.
Strength: Veterans. This was a bit of a problem going
into last year and everything turned out fine. This year the
corps needs to be fantastic with four good starters and backups
that are every bit as good, if not more dangerous and athletic.
Weakness: Production. This was a good group last year, but it
was hardly special. The numbers will be there again and it
should be a nice corps against the run, but with all the
returning talent and all depth, there should be more big plays
than there were last season.
Outlook: After a year of transition the
linebackers should be back to the 2007 form. A star needs to
emerge, and that might be Bauman, while it would be a huge help
if So'oto and Hooks could be 100% healthy. If they're right,
this group goes from serviceable to fantastic. As is it'll
hardly be a weakness.
At the moment, Scott Johnson will
start at free safety but he could move to corner, his original
position and his more natural spot. A special teamer before last
year, the 5-11, 188-pound senior came up with 59 tackles and
five tackles for loss, but he didn't pick off any passes. He's a
good playmaker and a good athlete who needs to do far more as
the only returning starter in the secondary.
Brandon Bradley is about to be the new star of the
defensive backfield. 6-0 and 200 pounds, he has excellent size
with the speed and skills to work either corner spot. He made 40
tackles with three broken up passes, but he appears ready to
make a bigger impact. He was dinged up in spring ball, but he
also looked good enough to be a shut-down defender against No. 1
The other corner spot is a major question mark.
Redshirt freshman Garrett Nicholson will likely
take over on the Field side bringing 5-9, 181-pound size and
track star speed. Mostly a star running back in high school, he
has the great straight-line speed and the potential to grow into
the job. He'll need time and he'll make some mistakes, but he'll
make plays thanks to his athleticism.
junior Andrew Rich is a huge hitter with the
ability to become a stat-sheet filler at strong safety. He made
26 tackles with an interception as a reserve, but his biggest
role will be as an intimidating presence who sets the tone both
for the running game and on the short to midrange pass plays.
Projected Top Reserves:
Will Brandon Howard be
back or not? One of the team's fastest players, and the best
cover-corner, he only picked off one pass but he made 35
tackles. However, he left the squad for personal reasons and
isn't expected back. He'd have been the starter on the Field
side had he been on the team.
With Howard gone, 5-11,
176-pound sophomore Steven Thomas will make a
big push for the Boundary job. He spent most of his time on
special teams in limited action last year, but now he'll see
starting time and he could end up being a key nickel and dime
back. He was great in spring ball with Bradley missed time hurt.
Ready to be a big part of the rotation at strong safety and
in nickel and dime packages is Shiloah Te'o, a
5-10, 206-pound sophomore who made five tackles mostly as a
special teamer. Now he'll work behind Rich and will be a regular
part of the rotation to get his quickness and tackling ability
on the field.
Watch Out For
... Rich. He's the highlight reel waiting to happen with his
hitting ability. The key will be to come up with the routine
plays as well as the kill shots, and he'll also have to show he
can be consistent.
Strength: Safety. Rich and Johnson are great hitters who
should be terrific as the last line of defense for the ground
game. Te'o is good enough to start if needed, while sophomore
Travis Uale will be a key part of the puzzle next year.
Weakness: Corner. With Howard gone, the secondary has to
scramble a bit to find the right players for the right spots.
Thomas has been good enough to step up and start, and Nicholson
has the basic skills to be fine on the other side of Bradley,
but considering the pass defense wasn't a plus last year, the
team could use some more production here.
Outlook: The secondary got lit up against the
teams on the schedule that could throw, and struggled against
some, like UNLV, that were merely average. The big issue is the
big play with just nine interceptions as a team while needing
tighter corner play to help out the front seven. Everyone will
hit and the safeties should be good, but getting a big year out
of Nicholson, Bradley and Thomas is a must for the Cougars to
have much hope of contending for the Mountain West title.
has connected on 10-of-14 field goals in each of
the last two years, and while he showed off a little more range last
year, hitting a 46-yarder against Air Force, he wasn't a bomber.
Accurate, he's reliable enough to be counted in key spots, even though
he hit a rough patch missing three field goals in the Las Vegas Bowl
loss to Arizona.
The punting game led the Mountain West
averaging 36.51 yards net, and now it'll be up to Tyler Holt
to give it a shot early on unless Riley Stephenson
takes over right away. Holt was fine in practices, but
Stephenson is an elite kicker prospect who's returning from a mission
with a big leg and the potential to take over the job if he can be
accurate early on.
The kickoff return game was among the best in
the nation with O'Neill Chambers averaging 23.1 yards
per try and Austin Collie averaging 27.5 yards per attempt. Collie is
gone, but speedy corner Garrett Nicholson is good
enough to help out. Chambers will also get a long look as the main punt
returner again despite a woeful season averaging just 5.9 yards per try.
McKay Jacobson was a good option before leaving for a
Church mission and will get plenty of chances to help the nation's 116th
ranked punt return game.
Watch Out For
... the punting situation. While Holt had a nice spring, the job of
Stephenson's for the taking. The punting game was solid last season with
C.J. Santiago averaging 41.8 yards per try with 17 kicks put inside the
20, and it's going to take a little bit of luck to get the same
Strength: Chambers on kickoff returns. While he stunk it
up as a punt returner, he was fantastic on kickoffs. Collie was better,
but Chambers should average well over 20 yards per try again and break a
few big ones.
Weakness: Punt returns. An utter disaster two years ago,
BYU finished last in the Mountain West averaging six yards per try. Last
year the punt return game took things to a new low averaging 3.7 yards
Outlook: The special teams have been uneven for
the last few years. Payne is a reliable placekicker while the punting
game was terrific. Now there needs to be more from the return games that
were so strong two years ago while the punt return game has to go a long
way to get to average.