It's week six of the 2014 college football season. BYU is sitting pretty at number 18 in the AP poll, and looks to be getting to the end of the difficult portion of its schedule. If BYU can get past Utah State this weekend, and then UCF the following weekend, there isn't really a lot standing in between the Cougars and an undefeated record, other than a much improved Cal team at the tail end of the schedule. Boise State is always dangerous, but BYU appears to match up very well with them.
However, before I get too excited about the possibility of going undefeated, I'll pump the brakes. We all know what happens when BYU and its fans get too excited about the possibility of a perfect season (Those ridiculous "Quest for Perfection" t-shirts, likely being worn by third world children along with Broncos Super Bowl XLVIII champions t-shirts), so we'll relegate the talk of perfection to the back burner, and talk about what BYU needs to do in order to maintain a championship mentality and go 1-0 this week.
BYU's secondary appears to be its biggest weakness on the defense in the past couple of games, with poor tackling and coverage making it difficult for BYU to hold on to the big leads that the offense has run up early. The defense has shown the lack of killer instinct, unlike the offense, in smothering the opponent's offense and breaking their spirit. This was illustrated in the Houston game most alarmingly, as it appeared BYU was ready to take a huge lead into the locker room, but miscommunication on defense following two turnovers allowed Houston to score quickly and get back in the game.
While it may be unfair to blame the defense for giving up quick scores after the offense turns the ball over, it's the responsibility of the defense to force field goals when the opponent's offense is given a short field as the result of a turnover. With that said, despite the fact that it's unclear as of this article whether or not Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton will actually play, it's imperative that the Cougars have a breakout game from their secondary this Friday.
The corners for BYU need to lock down the outside. Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson need to get more passes defended from their positions, and make sure that they set the edge, both for the run and the pass, by not allowing themselves to get picked on pass plays or blocked on run plays. They also need to make smart decisions in coverage on double moves and deep balls when they don't have safety help because Craig Bills is roaming around. Both cornerbacks are great athletes with good instincts, and they have the ability to elevate their play. If they can be a bit more patient and make sure their technique is sound, they should be able to shut down the USU wideouts and take away their lateral running game.
The free safety position needs to step up as well. I don't really know the answer at free safety. Does Bronco Mendenhall stick with Skye Povey? Or do we try and see how Dallin Leavitt does at the center field position? I'm not entirely confident in either guy's coverage skills or instincts. The best thing for BYU may be to transition Bills to free safety and give up a bit of the run support for Bills' coverage skills, while hoping that his acceleration will allow him to play up near the line as well. In fact, Bills is actually listed on the depth chart at free safety, but in practice, does not play over the top as much as one would hope. A two high safety look may help out the deep coverage.
I think in the end, Mendenhall's preparation and the home crowd will galvanize the defensive backfield into shutting down USU, no matter who is under center. The corners will keep the edges locked down, and the safeties will play well enough to limit deep passing opportunities. After being burned on deep balls, they'll be working on diagnosing plays and putting themselves in positions to not give up any plays deep, whether in front of them or over the top. The Cougar secondary should gel this game and will provide a solid back end for a defense that will carry the team to their best potential this season.