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Game Preview: BYU Defense

BYU’s offense matching up against the Sooner defense has already been discussed at length, whether it be over at Crimson and Cream Machine, or elsewhere. Maybe it's because Oklahoma's offense is considered (arguably) to be the best in the nation and BYU's defense (arguably) among the worst - but with the Gresham injury the Cougars without a doubt caught a break. Of course, while replacing an All-American isn't easily, Bob Stoops' program should be expected to fill in for Gresham nicely. For starters, Brody Eldridge could fill Greshams' spot and is an outstanding blocker (OU Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson called Eldridge the Sooner's "most consistent" offensive lineman - which includes standout LT Trent Williams). However, expect Gresham to be replaced by sophomore James Hanna or walk-on TE Trent Ratterree. The question remains then, what (else) has to happen for the BYU defense to keep the Sooner offense from exploding?

Mendenhall told Greg Wrubell this week that two coaching relationships aided in the preparation for Saturday's contest: 1 - Gary Patterson; and 2 - Urban Meyer. In their 2005 season opener, Patterson's TCU upset Oklahoma - in Norman. Last season the Frogs lost to OU in Norman, but held the Sooners to 35 points without forcing any turnovers. Obviously, Meyer's Gators were able to beat OU in last season's National Championship. Florida picked off Bradford twice and stuffed the Sooners at the goal-line on two separate possessions (once on a 4th and goal from the 1, the other with Bradford being intercepted at the 3 yard line).

Friends, that's some fine networking skills. Under Mendenhall the Cougars have traditionally run a 3-4, whereas the Gators normally run a 4-3 (sometimes using a nickel back however). Patterson's team in Ft. Worth has run an extremely successful 4-2-5. Still, don't expect Mendenhall and Hill to change their system. They may throw some tricky formations at the Sooners a bit, but BYU's 1) seemingly lack of depth on the defensive line and 2) lack of experience at linebacker will prohibit some of this. Certainly, Bronco and his staff have been able to take some things from Meyer, Patterson and some other recent OU game tape that they can use to their advantage. Because of the game being first on the schedule - and such a marquee contest for the Cougars - the BYU staff is assumingly well prepared in terms of defensive stratagems.

Here's the projected defensive depth chart for Saturday's game:

LE: Brett Denney, Matt Putnam
NT: Russell Tialavea, Romney Fuga, Tevita Hola
RE: Jan Jorgensen, Vic So'oto

Jorgensen is BYU’s most notable defensive player and the only Preseason All-MWC selection. He has lost some weight in an effort to improve his agility and subsequently increase his sack totals in 2009. He will be solid. Denney and Tialavea are also veterans though without the stats or name recognition of Jorgensen. Both are good in terms of the MWC, but neither would be even close to starting for the Sooners. Depending on which side Denney and Jorgensen match-up, one of them will be going against Trent Williams – and that will be a very tough task. Tialavea will likely go head-to-head with Eldridge. It will be interesting to see So’oto’s transformation from TE to LB and finally to DE. He has the athleticism to perform well, but I’m not counting on him to come up big against the Sooners. Putnam is a real stud and should see plenty of action against OU.

SLB: Jordan Pendleton, Grant Nelson
MLB: Matt Bauman, Brandon Ogletree
BLB: Shawn Doman, Terrance Hooks
WLB: Coleby Clawson, Jordan Atkinson

Hooks was projected to be the starter at BLB, but an injury caused him to miss most of Fall Camp. He should see significant field time in Dallas nonetheless. Pendleton is only a sophomore and is very highly regarded. Expect him to have a significant impact on Saturday – his first game as a starter. Of course, Bauman is the leader of the core, coming off of junior season in which he led the Cougars in tackles (108). Bauman isn’t a Muirbrook, Morris or even Cameron Jensen but he’s a hard-worker and a banger. Clawson was a JC transfer last season and ended up starting 11 games – look for him to improve with the added experience. As a whole this LB group isn’t as strong as previous years. They’ll have they’re work cut out for them with all of OU’s athletes, especially at the skill positions.

FC: Brian Logan, Robbie Buckner, Corby Eason
BC: Brandon Bradley, Lee Aguirre
Kat: Andrew Rich, Shiloah Te'o
Free: Scott Johnson, Craig Bills

As I've said before, expect BYU's defense as a whole to be improved. They won't be even close to the same realm as those teams mentioned above (Florida, TCU) but they should be respectable in the MWC. The defensive line is experienced and the linebackers decent. The secondary was atrocious in latter 2008 – but expect them to be improved as well. JC transfers – Logan, Eason and Aguirre – have added depth and athleticism, while Bills is a big-time play maker. Eason barely made the trip after the NCAA declared him eligible academically. The switch to FS for Johnson should help as well. As long as they can stay healthy they should be able to create more turnovers than 2008 and compete with OU and the teams that follow.

With Gresham out Bradford will likely look more toward a pair of outstanding WR’s. Ryan Broyles and Adron Tennell are each spectacular athletes and could provide serious problems for the Cougar secondary. Tennell is an experienced senior while Broyles, just a sophomore, is lightening fast – and returns punts as well. RB DeMarco Murray was an All-Big 12 selection last year, ran for over 1,000 yards in 2008, and is considered one of the best backs in the nation. So, even without Gresham, Bradford has plenty of weapons.

While BYU’s defense overall should be improved from 2008, it is highly unlikely they’ll be able to keep the Sooners below 35 or even 40. If BYU is going to be successful they must create turnovers like Florida did in the National Championship picking of Bradford twice. Last season’s Cougars wouldn’t have kept OU under 50. This season however BYU fans should be optimistic that that can be accomplished and that Hall and the offense can put up the numbers necessary to be competitive.