BYU pulling out all the stops to slow Navy’s triple option, but the learning curve is steep.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki at the school's annual spring football scrimmage in Provo, Saturday March 25, 2017.

As soon as the news of BYU signing on Navy to open the rescheduled 2020 season spread, the conversation quickly turned to how the Cougars would be able to defend the triple option, which the Midshipmen are known for.

BYU has been working on its option prep for more than a week, but the learning curve has been steep, as it always is when facing this kind of offense.

After the final fall camp scrimmage, defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki was asked what his career experience has been defending the option.

Tuiaki’s answer was simple: zero.

But after Tuesday’s practice, Tuiaki had a positive outlook on his lack of experience.

“I’ve been pretty open that I haven’t faced a team like this, but there’s always a little warrior anxiety just because you haven’t faced something like that before,” Tuiaki said. “But the defense is pumped up about being able to play football, first of all, and then play an opponent like this.”

Tuiaki isn’t alone in inexperience against this type of offense.

Senior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga has also never faced a triple option from any of the opponents he’s played in his career, including high school. But he believes the key to defending the option will come down to discipline.



When • Monday, 6 p.m. MDT


The defense, particularly the line, will have to be stout, be assignment-sound and try to prevent giving up big plays. A huge emphasis has been on stopping the run — which is where the Midshipmen roll up most of their offensive yards.

“We’ve been practicing super hard and we’ve been getting cut by our scout team,” Tonga said. “It’s going to come a lot faster when we play against Navy, but we’ve been practicing high-tempo ball and being able to do what we have to do against Navy.”

Senior Troy Warner also believes discipline will be key against Navy, especially on the back end. The Midshipmen like to create chaos on the field, forcing their opponents to make simple mistakes.

The Cougars will need to have strong eye discipline to not get thrown off.

“Eye discipline is going to be huge because one little mistake against a team like this and it could go a long way,” Warner said. “I think it’s huge for us to just minimize those mental errors and just lock into our one 11th and our own assignment to get the job done this game.”

When the first game notes of the season were released on Monday, the depth chart revealed new, hybrid positions on defense. The different linebacker positions have been changed to: Jack, Mike, Rover, Flash, Cinco and Nickel.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake said the change was inspired by having multiple players who can play different positions. The fifth-year coach said he didn’t believe he needed to define what each of those roles would be doing on each play, but that people would notice the new positions would may not be as traditional.

“If I show you five plays, they might be doing different things on all five,” Sitake said. “But it takes a unique player to play those positions, that can be hybrid. We need them to be linebacker, safety and corner at different times. So, that’s probably the best way to put it.”

While this is the first time in awhile that the Cougars have had to get ready for a triple option offense, it will come in handy as BYU will see a similar opponent less than two weeks later.

Sitake said he hasn’t thought much about Army, the Cougars’ second opponent of the season, and how the Black Knights use the triple option themselves. He’s simply focused on Navy.

However, Tuiaki said having similar opponents back-to-back come with positives and negatives.

“There’s definitely some advantages to playing them back to back and staying kind of tuned up on the option defense or whatever you got planned, but there’s disadvantages, too,” Tuiaki said. “They’re going to be able to see what’s on film and try to attack us that way. It’s going to be a chess match that way, as far as just us trying to keep schemes fresh, but keep guys assignment sound.”