|Michael Shelton recovers a fumble for BYU against Utah State in 2016 (BYU Photo)|
It is the last week of October. The 2017 football season is two months old, and the BYU Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake is still talking about this team developing an identity.
"The goal is to be as aggressive as we can and develop an identity as a team," Sitake said Monday.
He continued, "I've expressed my concerns to the coaches and staff and ask that the players keep buying into our culture and team. ... We need to work hard and be more aggressive. I need everyone to buy into that philosophy."
Last year, the Cougar defense was much more aggressive. The players had bought into the philosophy of the new coaching staff, and had developed an identity. That led to 31 forced turnovers, which was second best in the nation (Washington had 33). BYU created at least one turnover in every game.
BYU forced six turnovers against Utah, and came up with five more against Boise State. Those turnovers kept the Cougars in the game and gave them a chance to win, even while the offense struggled. Kai Nacua's interception against Wyoming sealed the win.
This year, BYU has forced just nine turnovers. That ranks 87th nationally. Twice, the Cougar defense hasn't forced a single turnover. There have only been two games with multiple turnovers.
The Cougar defense is without Nacua and Francis Bernard this season. These two players, alone, accounted for 11 turnovers last season, roughly 35 percent of all BYU turnovers. Their contributions are definitely missed; however, if forcing turnovers is part of your culture and identity, then there shouldn't be a significant drop off with new players.
The 2017 defense still has guys like Fred Warner, Dayan Ghanwoloku, and Micah Hannemann. Coming into this season, Warner was responsible for 10 turnovers in his career (six interceptions, four fumbles). Ghanwoloku, using the surname Lake, had three interceptions and one fumble recovery as a freshman in 2016. Hannemann also had three picks to his name coming into this season. Add to these three the return of pass rusher Sione Takitaki, and there is a nice nucleus of guys with the skill set and knack for the ball necessary to generate enough turnovers to have an impact on the game.
At this point, the Cougar defense has clearly lost its turnover swagger.
Enter the San Jose State Spartans.
BYU's opponent this Saturday has the worst ball security of any FBS school in the nation. The Spartans have turned it over 26 times. They have at least two turnovers in every game this season. San Jose State has turned it over four times or more in three games; that's almost half of the games this season.
San Jose State may be just what the doctor ordered to rejuvenate the turnover mindset of the BYU defense.
In an effort to curb their turnover woes, San Jose State has made a switch at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Montel Arron will start his second game of the season. He has seen action in five games, and has thrown just two interceptions. Former starter Josh Love threw seven. However, the Spartans have turned the ball over on fumbles more often than via the air (14 fumbles, 12 interceptions).
Following Sitake's mandate to be more aggressive, the Cougar defense should see turnovers pile up. An aggressive defense will put pressure on the inexperienced quarterback, which forces bad throws that can be easily intercepted. Aggressive defenses have three or four guys swarming to the ball carrier, and ripping the ball out before he goes down.
Everything seems to be in place for the BYU defense to regain its turnover swagger. The coaching philosophy, the right personnel, and the susceptible opponent.
The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org