The Brigham Young Cougars are 5-2 on the season and have a four game win streak. The team is showing improvement in many areas. One area that has experienced problems all season long, however, is pass defense.
Not everything is doom and gloom for the Cougar pass defense in 2011. BYU does rank seventh nationally in passes defensed with 5.9 per game. The eight interceptions (1.14 per game) is above average by BYU standards, especially if you were around in the early 1990s. BYU’s defensive pass efficiency (119.6) is respectable and places them just inside the top one-third in the nation.
There are several concerns that arise when looking at all the details. Pass defense is a weakness for the Cougars. It has been an influential part in BYU’s two losses. Every game something has happened to expose this weakness.
The third string Rebel quarterback passed for 141 yards. He didn’t enter the game until the 2:54 mark of the second quarter. On his first drive, he drove Ole Miss to their first score of the game, which gave the Rebels a 3-0 lead at halftime.
The BYU defense let a true freshman and a true sophomore with virtually no playing experience (1 pass attempt as a freshman) combine to go 9 of 11 for 92 yards. With a 16-10 lead in the fourth quarter, the Cougar defense allowed the sophomore to complete a 14-yard pass and later a 20-yard pass caught by a true freshman wide receiver on third down to set up the Longhorns’ winning touchdown.
BYU overcame three early turnovers to take a 10-7 lead against the Utes. As the first half was winding down, the Cougar D was carved up by the Utah passing game. Jordan Wynn completed 5-6 passes (five in a row) for 63 yards and a touchdown to give Utah a 14-10 halftime lead.
On the opening drive of the second half, Wynn was 2-3 for 66 yards and another touchdown, which was a result of poor judgment by the Cougar defensive back. BYU also aided Utah on this drive with a pass interference penalty. It was now a 21-10 game.
Wynn finished the game with a 135.6 pass efficiency rating; well above his 123.2 rating for the season.
BYU gave up 318 yards passing to the Knights. That ended a 22 game streak without allowing 300 yards passing in a game. Andy Dalton, now a starting quarterback in the NFL, didn’t even pass for 300 yards against BYU.
The most concerning aspect of the 318 passing yards was that 46 came from a redshirt freshman quarterback. The defense knocked the UCF starting quarterback out of the game for several plays. This freshman came into the game and promptly completed four consecutive passes, including one for 17 yards on a 3rd and 13. Fortunately, for BYU, that drive ended with a missed field goal.
The Aggies’ true freshman quarterback didn’t have a spectacular stat line (13-25, 122 yards, 2 TD), but he was very effective on third down. Utah State completed 8 of 9 passes on third down, and five of those eight completions were for a first down or a touchdown (3 first downs, 2 touchdowns).
San Jose State
Against San Jose State, the major concern was pass interference penalties. Twice on third downs, BYU was flagged for pass interference. By rule, pass interference penalties are automatic first downs. The Cougar defense gift wrapped two first downs for the Spartans. One of them kept a drive alive that eventually ended with a field goal.
San Jose State was fairly effective on third down as well. The Spartan QB completed 8 of 10 passes for five first downs.
The BYU pass defense gave several reasons for concern against Oregon State. First, BYU let a redshirt freshman pass for over 300 yards. Second, this freshman QB was 6-11 for 4 first downs when passing on third down, and 2-2 for 2 first downs when passing on fourth down. Third, the Cougars committed two more pass interference penalties (one on a fourth down). Last, BYU allowed Oregon State to complete 10 passes that were 14 yards or longer.
When you look at what four freshman quarterbacks, one very inexperienced sophomore, and one third string quarterback have been able to do against BYU, it is clear that BYU has problems defending the pass. It should be expected that BYU ranks in the top 10 for passes defensed. Eight interceptions starts to sound a little low. Cougar pass defenders have lacked discipline at key moments resulting in costly penalties that don't show up on the stat sheet.
Looking forward, Idaho State excels at throwing the ball. TCU probably has the athletes to take advantage of this weakness. Hawaii has the most potent passing game BYU will face all season.
The BYU passing defense has problems. It has cost BYU dearly already this season. If improvements are not made, BYU could be paying the price again--soon.
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