BYU football’s offense is on fire, but so is the Cougar defense

BYU defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga (95) gets up after sacking Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)

ProvoMuch has been said about BYU’s offense, but more could be said about the defense.

And the Cougars’ defenders will have the perfect opportunity to showcase their talents on Saturday afternoon when an eighth-ranked, undefeated BYU team goes up against winless North Alabama.

But just because the first-time FCS opponent has yet to win, it doesn’t mean the Cougars are taking the game lightly.

“I know they’re 0-3, but if you look at what they’ve done and you watch the film like I have, on all three phases, he prepares his guys the right way,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said of North Alabama coach Chris Willis. “He gets really good mentors and he’s been in North Alabama for a long time.”

The Cougars are still expected to put up another dominating, lopsided performance, though. And the defense will be key in that.

Last year, the BYU defense struggled against the run. In 2019, opponents rushed for a total of 2,178 yards — 110 more yards than the Cougars ran for. Through eight games this season, BYU has only given up 746 rushing yards.

In four of this season’s games, BYU has kept opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. Against Troy, the Cougars only gave up 19 rushing yards.

It’s helped BYU to outscore opponents 362-111.

“Kalani and [defensive coordinator] Ilaisa [Tuiaki] did a good job emphasizing stopping the run the whole offseason — that’s something we took pride in,” defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga said. “Last year, we knew we struggled and we took it as a challenge for this upcoming season. There’s still some times where we make mistakes, but overall, we feel like there’s been a huge improvement in the run defense and it’s been fun.”

The defense’s main weakness this year has been giving up chunk plays.

Boise State put up two fourth-quarter touchdowns on 52- and 46-yard passes. A few weeks ago, Texas State opened the game with three consecutive big plays to set up an opening-drive score.

While it hasn’t proved to be that big of a problem, the Cougars are trying to make sure even the reserves work on resolving that issue.

The overall improvement from the defense, though, stems from the improvement from the offense, senior defensive back Chris Wilcox said. It has forced opponents to changed their own offenses to be able to keep up with the high-scoring Cougars.

It forces opponents to become more predictable, Wilcox said.

“It’s really, really a lot easier for us on defense when teams are falling behind by one, two scores and then they try to completely change because they know if they’re trying to nickel and dime us and drive their way, a 15-, 16-play drive just to get 3 points, they’re not going to be able to keep up with the offense,” Wilcox said. “… The offense for us has been the biggest, biggest difference in the way that we play.


At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo

Kickoff » Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV » BYUtv

Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.

Records » BYU 8-0; North Alabama 0-3

Series » First meeting

About BYU » The Cougars are the only FBS team to be currently ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense (9th; 45.3 ppg), scoring defense (6th; 13.9 ppg), total offense (8th; 533.4 ypg) and total defense (6th; 284.9 ypg). … Heisman candidate and BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is completing 75% of his passes and has thrown for 2,512 yards and 22 yards.

About North Alabama » This is the Lions’ second time playing in Utah; their FCS debut was played at Southern Utah in 2018. … Saturday’s game will be the first time in its 72-year program history that North Alabama will face a nationally ranked FBS program. … The game in Provo will also be the final game of the shortened four-game 2020 fall schedule for the Lions.

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