The BYU defense has been forced into a significant personnel makeover as it prepares for Friday night’s tilt with Utah State in Logan.
Injuries have taken their toll this week on a defense that comes into the game giving up 433 yards and 28 points per game.
Friday’s game may be the first opportunity for outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy to show what he can do while subbing for the injured Jamison Frazier, who is out three to four weeks following surgery to repair a broken thumb.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound freshman from Reno is an explosive athlete that has been working to learn the responsibilities and assignments necessary in order to see more time on the field.
In high school, Van Noy could get by with his freakish athletic ability. But taking his game to the college level has been a work in progress.
He has needed some time to mature, get the mental part of the game down, and understand all that is expected of players in Bronco Mendenhall’s program.
Van Noy and Jaden Wagner are listed as co-starters going into the game, but it is Van Noy who coaches and fans have been waiting to see step up to the plate and take control on the weak side. A good showing in Logan against a team that gave up four sacks to Fresno State last week could be just what the doctor ordered to jump-start Kyle’s career.
Meanwhile, with Steven Thomas still out with a concussion, Travis Uale will be called upon to start again at safety. Last week, BYU made a switch in the defensive backfield, moving Andrew Rich to free safety while Uale played the strong or KAT safety spot.
The move was made specifically for the Nevada game, but keep an eye on how the Cougars utilize Rich and Travis against Utah State and the mobile Diondre Borel.
On the defensive line, Eathyn Manumaleuna moves over from defensive end to nose tackle to fill in for the injured Romney Fuga, who is out for the season.
Manumaleuna should be a capable replacement for Romney, having played nose tackle as a freshman. He will rotate with former walk-on Jordan Richardson, but expect Manumaleuna to get the lion’s share of plays.
The key is how quickly Eathyn will be able to make the adjustment from playing primarily one-on-one as a defensive end to dealing with double teams and eating up space in the middle. He will have to get back up to speed quickly as an NT in order to help free up the inside linebackers to make plays in BYU’s 3-4 defense.
Meanwhile, on the outside, the Cougars really hope that Matt Putnam will be able to step up and fill the sizable hole left by Manumaleuna at left defensive end.
At 6-foot-6, 271 pounds, Putnam isn’t exactly the perfect body type to play on the defensive line in a 3-4 scheme, being more suited to playing in a 4-3. Matt did show some flashes earlier in his playing career, and now the junior has an opportunity to prove that he can get it done on a consistent basis.
Backing up Putnam on the depth chart now is true freshman Graham Rowley, although don’t be surprised to see another true freshman, Thomas Bryson, get in the game ahead of Rowley.
Both Bryson and Rowley are impressive athletes with promising futures. However, Bryson has had the advantage of being in the program since the spring, and has seen action in three of the Cougars’ four games this year.
Regardless of who gets the most snaps, it's clear that the Cougars are going to be relying on true freshmen at the position more than they wanted for the rest of the season.
It will be interesting to see if Utah State can test BYU’s makeshift defense. The Aggie offense is struggling with injuries of its own, with top offensive lineman Spencer Johnson hobbling with a leg injury and their most talented running back, Micheal Smith, dealing with turf toe.
After Utah State gave seventh-ranked Oklahoma a run for their money to start the season and battled Fresno State into the final stanza, the wheels came off last week in the Aggies' 41-7 loss at San Diego State. USU’s star quarterback, Diondre Borel, was just 14-of-31 for 103 yards passing, and was held to just five yards rushing while running for his life in the backfield for a good portion of the game.
Once again, the BYU gameplan on defense will no doubt be to make a mobile quarterback beat them with his arm. On the season Borel has completed just 53 percent of his throws for 203 yards per game with four touchdowns and four interceptions.