BYU senior Uriah Leiataua defends D-line’s play, despite a drop-off from a season ago

The Cougars face a tough test when Virginia comes to town Saturday

BYU defensive back Malik Moore, right, runs the interception he caught on a pass intended for Washington State wide receiver Donovan Ollie (6) out of the end zone during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

There are players and coaches who block out everything fans say on social media.

Not BYU defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua.

When the BYU Cougars fell from No. 10 to outside the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll after back-to-back defeats, the conversation and criticism centered on the team’s defense and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki.

Leiataua has heard the chatter — and he’s heard enough.

During Monday’s press conference, Leiataua was asked about injuries to the defensive line and if that has put a strain on the team. The senior from Compton, Calif., took the opportunity to speak on the recent conversation surrounding the defense.

“I’m just going to be upfront with you, I see what a lot of people say about our D-line,” Leiataua said. “I want to just talk back, but I know I shouldn’t. I’m just going to say this: our defensive line cares. They believe in the scheme. They will sacrifice their necks, their knees, their whole body for the scheme.

“I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that Earl [Tuioti-Mariner] is banged up, I’m banged up, Caden Haws is banged up, [Atunaisa Mahe’s] banged up, [Tyler] Batty’s banged up, but you know what, none of them complain about it. And that’s something I wanted to make sure everyone knows.”

On Tuesday, Tuiaki said he believes Leiataua’s argument speaks to the type of players they have in the program.

“The amount of games that we’ve been winning in the last two years, I think it’s because of players like that that are completely bought in,” Tuiaki said. “… For a guy to be selfless and be all into what we’re doing and competing and just trying to find a way to contribute is a reason why we have a team that succeeds.”

Obviously, though, there has been a drop-off since last season, when the Cougars finished ranked as a top 10 total defense and ranked No. 4 in scoring defense, allowing an average of 15.33 points per game.

After eight games, BYU is currently ranked No. 72 in total defense and No. 47 in scoring defense, averaging 22.5 points per game.

Through the first three games, BYU opponents had been averaging 16.67 points per game. That changed when the Cougars gave up 27 points to South Florida in what turned out to be a frustrating win.

In its two losses of the season, BYU gave up a total of 64 combined points — the worst stretch in scoring defense.

But it seems the ship righted itself, if only partially, over the weekend when BYU beat Washington State 21-19. After the game, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said if he would have known beforehand that they would only give up 19 points to WSU, he would have taken it.

Now, the Cougars have a monumental challenge coming up on Saturday when they host Virginia, a team that’s in the top 5 in total offense and top 20 in scoring offense.

“With where they’re at — just the top stats they’re putting up, the amount of points they’re putting up — it’s a really, really tough offense to prepare for,” Tuiaki said. “We’ve got our work ahead of us.”