Provo » Jaime Hill is not an easy man to please, but BYU's defensive coordinator perks up just a little bit when he talks about how his defense performed in the 2009 regular season.
"For a group that helped the team win at least 10 games for the fourth straight year, I think those guys did a fantastic job," said Hill, in his second season as the defensive coordinator and fourth season at BYU. "We had some pitfalls and some challenges throughout the season, but for them to win 10 games, I think it was terrific for them."
Entering the Dec. 22 Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon State, BYU ranks 35th nationally in total defense and 34th in scoring defense. After getting repeatedly burned by Florida State for 512 yards, including 313 on the ground, in their third game, the Cougars improved to the point where the defense was no longer a huge concern in the final few games, Hill said.
"We had some challenges, and there were some areas where people were attacking us, but we found a way to fix those things," Hill said.
The coordinator said before the season the staff heard the criticism that the Cougars were vulnerable against spread offenses and running quarterbacks.
"We went against spread offenses six times, and lost to one," he said. "We faced eight running quarterbacks, lost to one. So all the things that people said we couldn't do, we found a way to get them fixed."
It's no surprise, but Hill said the defense's biggest offseason priority is to find a safety to replace starter Scott Johnson , who graduates, and backup Craig Bills , who is going on an LDS Church mission.
"We have three of the four guys coming back in the secondary, but we are going to have to find a safety," he said. "It is always a priority to get faster and better. But we are going to be who we are. We are the same team today as we were in 2006 as far as that goes. We just have to find ways to get it done with what we have."
Staying with the 3-4
Because of how they've recruited, there is reason to believe coaches might be considering a switch to a 4-3 defensive alignment. Not happening, Hill said.
"There's no reason to do anything different. Now, we have some elements of 4-3 principles in there right now. As you watch us play, we [rush] four guys most of the time. So it is a modified 4-3," he said. "We don't really talk about it in terms of 3-4 or 4-3. It is seven guys -- a seven man front."
The Cougars practiced Monday night in the indoor practice facility having turned their full attention to Oregon State. Coach Bronco Mendenhall called it a good practice, "full of good focus."... Mendenhall said Riley Stephenson will kick off in the Las Vegas Bowl, after both kickers struggled a bit in the Utah game. ... The coach called Oregon State "one of the best teams we will have played, period," and not just the best team the Cougars have played in a bowl game.
Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22, Sam Boyd Stadium, 6 p.m. MST