Provo • When coach Kalani Sitake spoke at length Monday about the need for the Cougars to become a more aggressive football team, most observers believed he was talking about his team’s offense.
And rightfully so. The Cougars offense ranks third from the cellar in the land with a 264.8 yards-per-game average. And they are averaging just 12.1 points per game, which also ranks 127th in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
But Sitake actually was talking about letting it all hang out in all three phases, and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Tuesday that his group got the message. But actually putting that plan into action with an injury-depleted group of defenders won’t be easy.
“For us, it is about being aggressive, but not being reckless,” Tuiaki said, promising more blitzes. “We want to make sure we keep it so our kids understand what they can do. Throw a couple changes in there. It is just about doing what we have been doing, but better, and adding a couple wrinkles to it.”
The Cougars rank 72nd in total defense (395.9 ypg.) and 80th in scoring defense (28.0 ppg.) but are coming off a game in which they gave up 413 yards to East Carolina.
Injuries (and the preseason suspension of linebacker Francis Bernard) have left the unit a shell of its former self, with linebacker Matt Hadley, defensive tackle Tevita Mo’unga and now cornerback Troy Warner among the starters lost for the season due to injury.
“It hurt us a lot, losing Troy Warner” in the ECU game, Sitake said. “That was hard to deal with. Obviously you saw them attack our corners when he went out. Troy has been solid, not perfect, but he has played really well for his second year starting, and it is probably highly unlikely that he will return this year.”
Sitake said he never will use the injury excuse as a coach because all teams have them.
“The urgency is to get better now,” Sitake said. “And the only way we can get better is work hard and be aggressive. And I don’t think as a program we have been aggressive enough, and it is my fault. So I am hanging this on me. The players are working hard. I need all the coaches to buy in to the same type of mindset and philosophy, and let’s go to work and let’s show everybody what we can do when the cards are stacked against you and there are a lot of issues going [against you].”
Sophomore Chris Wilcox will start at Warner’s spot at left corner, backed up by junior college transfer Trevion Greene, also a sophomore.
“I am ready,” Wilcox said. “I have been ready the whole season, being a backup. You have to get your mind right when your time comes, and mine has come. I am going to step up and do my thing.”
Wilcox said he has taken Sitake’s urging to play more aggressively to heart, and he believes fellow corner Dayan Ghanwoloku has as well. He believes the coaches believe in him now after they lost faith in him during a dismal performance against Toledo last season.
“You got to take calculated risks and do some things that they might not be completely comfortable with,” Tuiaki said about the young players moved into the rotations due to the injuries. “I think that in turn is going to help them take steps forward with their confidence level. It does kind of change things, mostly in coverages, with what we are doing.”
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