Cheering 101

John Beck

Cougar fans get their first up close and personal look at 2006 edition of the BYU football team this Saturday. The Cougars will undoubtedly do everything they can to secure a victory, but will the fans match their effort? Four members of the squad give fans specific instructions on how they can give their team a true home field advantage.

After BYU's loss to Arizona last weekend, fans expressed frustration and disbelief at the performance of an offensive line that came in touted as one of the strengths of the offense. Illegal procedure penalties by linemen seemed to stall drive after drive. Although the Cougar offense did not try to dodge the blame for their disappointing play, their explanation for the frequent flaggings gives insight into what truly creates home field advantage.

"I would say the crowd noise was one of the biggest factors in Arizona beating us," said veteran Cougar offensive tackle Eddie Keele. "If the quarterback is yelling the cadence, the center has to look straight forward, so he can't hear very well at all. The rest of the line can at least have one ear towards the quarterback. Some will hear him, and some won't; the center won't snap the ball because he can't hear him. That's what happened to us probably five different time different times during the Arizona game."

Now that the Cougars are back home in the familiar confines of LaVell Edwards Stadium, they hope that crowd will be back on their side. Several BYU football players shared their insights into what Cougar fans can do to maximize their impact on the game.

"Something that could help us out a lot – that could give us a huge home field advantage – is if the crowd stays loud the whole time the other team is on offense," said Keele. "If they do that, it just messes the other team's offense up and they can't function."

Screaming for half of the game may exhaust even the most ardent BYU supporters. For those who need to conserve their energy, there are specific situations in the game when fan noise is most disruptive to visiting teams.

"The time when I couldn't hear at Arizona was in the blue zone [inside Arizona's 20-yard line]," said staring Cougar center Sete Aulai. "If the fans could help us out in the blue zone, and make all sorts of noise – bang on the polls and stomp and everything – that would be so helpful to our defense. I'm pretty sure their center would not be able to hear anything."

The shape of the stadium naturally focuses crowd noise on the endzone so the fans' efforts are magnified by architecture. BYU quarterback John Beck agrees with his center that fans can cause the most problems for opponents in the blue zone, but he also adds another scenario that can be influenced by the roar of the crowd.

"Goal line, also short yardage stuff," said Beck about times when crucial communications can be disrupted. "It's critical, especially on third down because you want to convert on that third down. You want to make sure you're in the right run or in the right pass play. Those times that are the most critical for getting a first down or getting a touchdown are when the offense is communicating the most."

In addition to key situations in the game, there are also moments during each play when the fans can interfere with the offense's communications. In the past, BYU supporters waited to get loud until the opposing quarterback was under center about to snap the ball. This approach may affect the snap count, but it missed opportunities to make life difficult on the offense.

"It's as you're walking to the line and looking at the defense," said Aulai of one of the important communication moments. "We get the play in the huddle, but we don't know what we're doing. We have to adjust to what the defense gives us. If the crowd makes noise when the offense is walking to the defense, then that would disrupt their calls."

Keele advises fans to look for any attempt by the offense to communicate and react accordingly. As an offensive lineman, he knows how important it is for the quarterback to talk to the linemen.

"When the quarterback is talking, that's when the crowd should be the loudest," said Keele. "The noise makes it way harder to change the play if the quarterback needs to. It makes it hard for the O-line to hear the cadence so they can get off on the count, and then they have to start looking at the ball and going off the ball, but then they get off late."

As a defender, BYU linebacker Cameron Jensen is not so particular about when the fans should make noise. His theory is that if the crowd is always loud when he is on the field, then the opposing offense will struggle to do anything.

"Make noise when we're on defense," said BYU middle linebacker Cameron "The General" Jensen. "It gets in their head. They can't communicate; they can't check; they can't hear the snap call. When there's a lot of noise – especially then they're on offense – it gets to them."

Jensen insists that the noise will not have a negative effect on the defense's ability to communicate. On the contrary, it merely pushes them to play harder.

"Oh no," answered Jensen in response to a question about whether crowd noise would hamper the defense. "We're fine, we thrive off it. Not only does it intimidate them, when we hear all that, it just energizes us.

There is one situation for which the players requested that the crowd tone it down a bit. It would seem like common sense to football fans, but BYU supporters struggle with it every year.

"Whatever you do, don't cheer when we're on offense, until after the play is over of course," said Keele. "When you see the O-linemen waving their arms, we're not doing a dance, we're trying to tell you to be quiet so we can hear the play call and snap count."

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