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Reasonable Expectations in Year 1 for BYU’s Revamped Defense

BYU’s defense got a facelift over the offseason. What are reasonable expectations for the Cougars defense heading into 2023?

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

BYU’s defense needed a massive overhaul after last season.

Former defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki headed a unit that was one of the worst in the nation in 2022. They ranked 94th in yards allowed per game, 98th in rushing yards allowed per game, 97th in points allowed per game, and were second-to-last in the FBS to only Colorado in total sacks with a measly 15.

Head coach Kalani Sitake had enough. Tuiaki left the team and Sitake replaced him with a home run hire of former Weber State head coach Jay Hill.

Hill comes into Provo with immediate credibility. He was not the defensive coordinator, but head coach of one of the most successful FCS programs, specifically on defense, in the entire country. He has built a reputation around the country as a coach and recruiter.

The Cougars have seen immediate dividends. The Cougars saw turnover among their defensive personnel which brought in four potential starters from the transfer portal. That is headlined by Eddie Heckard, an FCS All-American cornerback who garnered some NFL buzz before following Coach Hill from Weber State to BYU.

The pass rush appears to have upgraded with two Boise State defectors in Isaiah Bagnah off the edge and Jackson Cravens along the interior.

In the second level, BYU scored Utah State’s AJ Vongphachanh, fresh off of a 101-tackle campaign for the Aggies.

Hill and the Cougar staff also added depth along the way. They also solidified the commitment of four-star EDGE rusher Siale Esera for the 2023 recruiting class.

Not only did BYU get a large change in personnel on the defensive side, but Hill also brings a whole new mentality and philosophy to Provo. From day one, Hill has said he expects to be aggressive and on the attack. Far too often over the last few seasons, BYU’s defense seemed passive and reactive, instead of confident and proactive.

With Hill, that appears not to be the case anymore.

So, what are the expectations? How much can BYU’s defense really improve over just one offseason, after two seasons of poor performance?

With BYU making the jump to the Big 12, one of the most offense-happy leagues in college football, it may be hard to truly judge the improvement of this unit. BYU’s defense should instantly improve, but the competition will also be much stiffer.

Frankly, there isn’t much more room to go down, it should only be up from here for the defense.

A rejuvenated defense mixed with some fresh faces should prove fruitful right out of the gate. This is the Transfer Portal Era, after all. Teams have more ability to change their culture nearly overnight than ever before.

Plus, Ben Bywater returns at linebacker after a breakout campaign. He and Max Tooley, who also returns, led the team with three interceptions each. Tyler Batty returns at defensive end after leading the team with seven tackles for loss last year.

BYU appears to have a good mix of returning talent with some upgrades thanks to the transfer portal.

It’s likely BYU will not all of a sudden be a top 25 unit in the country. Especially facing some of the most elite offenses college football has to offer. BYU will face three of last year’s top 25 offenses.

However, by almost default, BYU should be better in most categories. Where we should see the biggest change is in sacks and tackles for loss, two categories where BYU was one of the worst in all of the FBS last season. With this new style of play, BYU should be adding much more pressure, resulting in more sacks and tackles for loss.

A more successful pass rush should trickle down to other areas of the defense, like run defense and pass defense in the secondary. A good pass rush is the glue that holds a good defense together. BYU has not had that consistently in some time.

It’s reasonable to expect BYU to not be near the back of the pack in every defensive statistic, like 2022. Even if BYU is just “average” in most categories, that should spell success with BYU’s assumed potent offense.

It is not unreasonable to expect at least an average defense out of Jay Hill and company. Getting from the 90s in most rankings to the 50s would do wonders for the potential success of BYU’s first season in the Big 12.