Cougar Defense Not Satisfied

Cameron Jensen

After getting torched by opposing offenses a year ago, the Cougar defense came out against Arizona armed with a new scheme and a new attitude. The result was a strong and consistent effort by BYU's defenders. Despite holding Arizona to 16 points, the defense is not close to being happy with their performance.

"We lost," answered BYU defensive leader Cameron Jensen bluntly when asked about the defense's performance. "They scored 16 points, and we had a chance to hold them at the end of the game, and we didn't do it. We didn't play good enough to win the game, so we're not even close to being satisfied with what we did. We need to get better."

While the defense held Arizona to a mere 253 yards of total offense, including 67 yards rushing only after a 54 yard scamper by Chris Henry, there is still room for the defense to improve. Cougar fans are encouraged by what they saw on Saturday in light of the over 400 yards per game of total offense that the defense gave up last season.

"We're confident this year," said safety Dustin Gabriel. "We weren't close to being as confident as we are now last year. It's just a new attitude and a new level of confidence. So yeah, we're confident coming out of the Arizona game, but we just can't be satisfied. We didn't win the game, so we didn't play well enough. We didn't get what we needed to get done."

Big Plays

While the defense forced numerous three and outs they were beat on a couple of big plays that ultimately cost the Cougars a 16-13 loss. Limiting those big play opportunities was one of the big reasons head coach Bronco Mendenhall switched from a do-or-die 3-3-5 system to a more conservative bend, but not break 3-4 alignment.

"Just three plays really killed us," said linebacker Bryan Kehl. "We held them again and again and again, but with just those three plays they beat us, so we can't allow that next time. We need to recognize that we didn't get it done for three plays and we lost because of it."

The plays Kehl referenced were a long 48-yard pass to Syndric Steptoe which led to a field goal, a 54-yard cutback run by Chris Henry which led to Arizona's lone touchdown and a critical 10-yard catch by Steptoe that put Arizona in range game-winning field goal.

"We tackled well all game," said Kehl, "but when it came down to it, when we needed to tackle them most, we didn't do it. We missed him and he got them into field goal range and won the game. That is where you have to improve."

"We did a good job of keeping them [Arizona receivers] in front of us," said cornerback Justin Robinson. "That one time I let that guy get past me and they made us pay for it. I came back strong, but I can't let that happen. We're confident, but we need to get better. Defense wins championships and we didn't win. The defense played well, but not well enough. We only play well enough if we win."

In for the Kehl

Saturday marked the coming out party for linebacker Bryan Kehl who made a living in the Wildcat backfield where he had numerous tackles for losses. A key tackle for loss came on a first and goal play from the two-yard line. Kehl hit the ball carrier for a six-yard loss, and the Cougars went on to hold Arizona to a field goal on that possession.

"I guess it was sort of my coming-out game," said Kehl. "I'm happy with a lot of the things I did out there, but like I said, it wasn't enough. I missed a tackle on that last drive that led to them kicking that field goal to win the game."

Now that Kehl has asserted himself physically he aims to assert himself in the heads of his opponents along with the rest of the Cougar defense.

"My older brother Ed, who played here, told me that I need to get to the point now that when the offense lines up against me and against my teammates that we already beat them mentally," explained Kehl. "We're not at that point yet, but we'll get there. We're not close to being as good as we can be. It was only one game, but we have a lot to build on."

Happy to Be out There

One notable starter was Dustin Gabriel, who got most of the reps at the KAT safety position. Although he saw most of the reps at safety last season, the fact that he was out there for the first game was remarkable due to some health problems that made it unsure whether he would ever play again.

Gabriel had back problems that forced him out of full contact drills for the entire spring and into the beginning of fall camp. After trying out the linebacker position Gabriel is back at safety where he had the game of his BYU career against Arizona.

"I'm so happy to be playing," said Gabriel. "I can't even describe what it's been like not knowing whether I'd play again or not, so playing against Arizona and for the rest of this year is incredible for me. I feel I played well, but I can work on a lot like we all can."

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