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BYU Preview: Defense

The stout BYU defensive line clashing against the UCLA offensive line is a huge storyline for Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl.

BYU linebacker Harvey Langi sacks Boise State's quarterback
BYU linebacker Harvey Langi sacks Boise State's quarterback
Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of the defensive unit of Brigham Young University’s football team. Yesterday we previewed the BYU offense. Today we will look at BYU’s defensive statistics through two games this season, breakdown each subgroup of the Cougar defense, and analyze how the Bruins offense matches up against BYU's D.


Total Defense

The Cougars are ranked #81 nationally in total defense, yielding an average of 403 yards per game. By comparison, UCLA is #34, yielding 286.5 yards per game. At first blush, this seems like a wide disparity. When you take into consideration BYU's tougher competition, however, the disparity might not be so great.

Red Zone Defense

BYU is tied for #97 (last) in red zone defense. UCLA is #54. Opponents have driven the ball inside the Cougars’ red zone six times, resulting in three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns, and one made field goal. This bodes well for the Bruins, who sometimes have trouble finishing drives and have to settle for field goals.

Rushing Defense

BYU strength on defense is its rushing defense. The Cougars are ranked #25 in the nation, yielding only 2.79 yards per rush, and 95 yards on the ground per game. UCLA, by comparison, is #58, yielding 3.62 per rush and 139.5 yards on the ground per game. In fairness to the Bruins, BYU and UCLA had been in drastically different game scenarios in their respective first two games of the season. UCLA, with big leads, was looking to stop the big play and could allow short and intermediate rushes to grind down the clock. BYU, on the other hand, faced teams with 4th quarter leads looking to run out the clock by running the football, and the Cougars adjusted their defense by stacking up against the run.

Passing Yards Allowed

BYU is ranked #106 in passing yards allowed, yielding 308 yards per game.

Will UCLA look to exploit BYU’s secondary? Or will the Cougars adjust to stop the pass, daring UCLA to beat BYU on the ground? We’ll find out on Saturday.

Other Stats

There are two other interesting tidbits to note. First, BYU has not allowed a passing play in excess of 30 yards this season. Although UCLA may show the deep threat, its bread-and-butter is the short and intermediate passing game, which could exploit BYU’s defense. Second, BYU has not allowed a single point in the fourth quarter of either of its games this season, shutting out both Nebraska and Boise State in the final frame, helping the BYU offense snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. This is not a defense that appears to tire out. It will be interesting to see if the UCLA offense tries to run as many plays as it did against UNLV in an attempt to wear down the BYU defense.

Defensive Line

BYU’s defensive line is deep and experienced. It is also big and mature. It may be the strongest unit on the BYU football team, as shown by its impressive numbers against the run in its first two games. BYU typically runs a 3-4 defense, so only three guys start on the line. BYU, however, goes six or seven deep on the unit.

BYU’s starters against Boise State were senior Bronson Kaufusi (6’8" 280), who play left defensive end and happens to be the son of BYU’s defensive line coach, Steve Kaufusi. Kaufusi’s backup is junior Tomasi Laulile (6’4" 280).

At nose tackle is junior Travis Tuiloma (6’2" 300). His backup is senior Logan Taele (6’2" 293), who can also play defensive end. Sophomore Kesni Tausinga (6’1" 302 lbs.) completes the three deep at the nose tackle position.

A couple of seniors man the right defensive end position for the Cougars. Graham Rowley (6’4" 280 lbs.) got the start against Boise State, but Remington Peck (6’4" 270 lbs.) also saw a lot of time.

The BYU defensive line reminds me a lot of the UCLA defensive line. It is a strength of the team, there is significant depth, and the coaches like to rotate in a lot of players to keep the line fresh. The Bruin offensive line, however, has been practicing against a similarly talented defensive line every day in practice for over a month now. This will be a major battle in the trenches, perhaps the most important matchup of the day, and I hope that the Bruin offensive line is up to the task. I believe that they will be.


BYU’s linebackers are a talented group. Starting at strong side outside (SAM) linebacker is sophomore Fred Warner (6’4" 225 lbs.). Warner has 14 tackles on the season, two of which were tackles for losses, and has recovered a fumble. Starting at one of the two middle inside linebacker positions (MIKE), junior Harvey Langi (6’3" 240 lbs.) has 12 tackles on the season, four of which were tackles for losses. Starting at the other middle inside linebacker positions (BUCK) is senior Manoa Pikula (6’1" 235 lbs.), who has 13 tackles, one of which was a tackle for loss. Finally, Jherremya Leuti-Douyere, a 6’0" 230 lb. senior, starts at the weak side linebacker (WILL) position. Warner, Pikula, and Langi are the second, third, and fourth leading tacklers on the team, respectively.


The BYU starting secondary, which is big, features junior safety, Kai Nacau (6’2" 213 lbs.). Nacau, who was suspended for the Nebraska season opener, was named the Football Writers Association of America Defensive Player of the Week after last Saturday’s game against Boise State. In that game, Nacau recorded three interceptions, the last of which was a "pick six" with less than 45 seconds in the game, sealing the victory for BYU.

Why was Nacau suspended for the Nebraska game? Check out the two videos below, presented in chronological order (Nacau is #12):

So, Nacau sucker punches a Memphis player from behind, squares off against a Memphis player who saw the sucker punch, and gets destroyed. With blood streaming down the left side of his face, Nacau gets off the turf and decides to get in one more cheap shot from behind, this time on a Memphis player who is being restrained by his coach, no less, as shown in the next video:

Weak. While Nacau appears to be a talented player, he did himself no favors in the public relations department by sucker punching two separate Memphis players after the bowl game last season. Nacau’s one-game suspension for Nebraska was exceedingly light punishment for his actions.

BYU's other starting safety is senior Michael Wadsworth (6’2" 195 lbs.). Wadsworth has a team-leading 16 tackles through two games including three tackles for loss. Very solid numbers. Junior Eric Takenaka (5’11" 205) has also seen significant action at the safety position.

At cornerback, BYU starts junior Michael Davis (6’2" 195 lbs.) and sophomore Micah Hannemann (6’0" 200 lbs.). As a sophomore, Davis and 43 tackles and broke up six passes. This season, he has 10 tackles is broken up one pass. Hannemann, who only reported one tackle in eight games during his freshman campaign, has seven tackles and one interception in 2015.

The BYU secondary may be even more than the sum of its parts, as it is not given up one passing play in excess of 30 yards season. It will be interesting to see if Noel Mazzone and Josh Rosen have any success throwing the ball deep against this group.

Strategy and Analysis

When the UCLA offense faces the BYU defense, look for Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone to use the short and intermediate passing game to set up the long pass and to set up the run. BYU is stout against the run and has not allowed a long pass all season. BYU has, however, given up a lot of passing yards. Logically, therefore, those yards have been conceded in the short and intermediate passing game. This is both a strength of Mazzone coached teams and Josh Rosen can deliver the ball quickly and on target. Once UCLA has established this type of quick strike passing offense, the DBs will need to adjust (creep up on the receivers) and UCLA could get some looks deep.

How will the UCLA offensive line fare against BYU’s defensive line? This is the key to the game for me. UCLA has a great and experienced group. They have a great and experienced roup. It will be very physical and I hope that we don’t get baited into penalties. It is very good news that Jake Brendel is back for this game.

That’s it for Bruins Nation preview of BYU’s defense. If you have any more input or thoughts, please add them in the comment section below.

We are only two days away from kickoff!! Go Bruins!!!