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Turnovers cost BYU its undefeated record. Now, the defense is emphasizing the need for takeaways at Baylor.

Bears quarterback Gerry Bohanon has yet to throw an interception this season.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Boise State Broncos safety Alexander Teubner (34) picks up a fumble from Brigham Young Cougars running back Lopini Katoa (4) right, after he was tackled by Boise State Broncos linebacker DJ Schramm (52) as No. 10 Brigham Young University hosts Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Oct. 9, 2021.

The turnover battle is one of the most important aspects of any game, as was made apparent last week when BYU coughed up four turnovers in the loss to Boise State.

Prior to facing the Broncos, the Cougars had committed just two turnovers over five games.

Now, part of the BYU defense’s priority this week is focusing on how it can get some takeaways on Saturday at Baylor.

Defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner said it’s actually a “huge” part of practices this week.

“We didn’t get any takeaways [against] Boise State and takeaways have been a huge emphasis on this week,” Tuiati-Mariner said. “We’ve got to get more third-down stops, but also we’ve got to get the ball out of their hands, interceptions — we need to do more on the defensive side of the ball. We’re going to try our best this week to get some stops and some takeaways to help our offense and get the ball moving.”

Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon has thrown for 1,337 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 66.2% of his passing — all while not having thrown a single interception.

In fact, none of Baylor’s quarterbacks have thrown an interception. Backup quarterbacks Jacob Zeno and Blake Shapen have seen a little bit of action in two or three games, respectively, and have also managed to take care of the ball.

“Offensively, they’re really efficient,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “[The] quarterback takes care of the football, hasn’t thrown an interception all year. And then they have a good group of running backs and some great skill players at receiver.”

The Bears are currently ranked 16th in rushing offense, 17th in scoring offense and 25th in total offense. Baylor’s offense, and offensive line, has been explosive this season thanks in part to new staff brought in by second-year coach Dave Aranda — a pair of coaches BYU fans are more than familiar with to be exact.

At the start of the year, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and offensive line coach Eric Mateos left BYU for the same positions at Baylor.

So, while the BYU defense has a tall order awaiting it in Waco, Texas, it’s an offense they have familiarity with.

In fact, there’s so much familiarity that defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said the staff has considered switching up their play calls and signals while at Baylor.

“[It’s] a lot like facing what we’re already facing right now,” Tuiaki said. “Obviously there’s a lot of similarities in calls and just the way that they run things and teach things. So we’re getting a lot of good crossover with our offense to prepare for it. We know they’re going to be well-coached. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for coach Grimes and what he does, and I think that these boys are going to be ready and play hard.”

But the first step to coming out on top on Saturday, Tuiaki said, will come down to the Cougars being opportunistic. BYU will need to make tackles and strip at the ball.

As far as trying to pick Bohanon, Tuiaki said it will come down to the cornerbacks’ performances. The Cougars will have to be aggressive in their pass coverage, but prevent getting called for pass interference.

Part of playing an aggressive defense is playing man-to-man coverage. So, Tuiaki knows there may be some pass interference penalties called, but it’s part of the game.

“We’ve got to play better at playing the ball,” Tuiaki said. “But it really is difficult. It’s one of the most difficult things to do is play the ball, especially when you have quarterbacks that are really timely and really throw the ball in spots that are hard to defend. … So you just got to keep fighting and play all the way to the ground and hope the ball pops out.”

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