BOISE — When your head coach is also your defensive coordinator, stopping opposing offenses has a little more of a premium placed on it.
At BYU, coach Bronco Mendenhall took over as coordinator midway through the 2010 season. Since then, the Cougars have yielded 91.5 rushing yards per game, second-best in the nation. Last season, they were 13th in the nation in total defense and through three games are No. 9 in 2012.
“Let’s just say he hates it when people score touchdowns on us,” BYU junior linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “You don’t hear it much in the game, but the next practice, you know. He pushes us to be workhorses. He takes a lot of pride in it.”
In Provo, the once-renowned BYU offense has taken a bit of a backseat to a physical defense, led by Van Noy, whom Boise State offensive coordinator Robert Prince called “a terror.” The Reno native, who said he was recruited “very hard” by Boise State is tied for fifth in the nation with 4.5 sacks. He had seven sacks, three forced fumbles, three interceptions and a blocked kick last season.
“He’s hard to describe — it’s like saying ‘why is Shea (McClellin) good?’” Boise State coach Chris Petersen said, referring to his own do-it-all standout, now with the Chicago Bears.
No offense has gained more than 300 yards in the Cougars’ last nine games — they’re yielding 241 yards per game this season. Their 13 sacks are third-most nationally, and the 53 yards per game the Cougars are giving up is No. 6.
“Bronco’s got them playing as hard as they’ve ever played … that’s his baby,” Petersen said.
Seven of the Cougars’ projected starters for Thursday’s game are seniors, which has enabled them to get off to a strong start after a great finish to last season.
“I think we have some good leadership,” Van Noy said. “The coaches put us in the right situations, and we have guys who know what they’re doing and are able to execute.”
Most of the offensive aspects Boise State aimed to improve after its season-opening loss will be tested Thursday. First, the rushing attack — the Broncos ran for just 37 yards in the opener, but got 295 last Saturday against Miami (Ohio). Second, communication — Prince said he did not do a good job of getting plays sent in quickly Aug. 31, while the offensive line said it struggled to get blockers on the right defenders. Naturally, that’s the sort of thing the Cougars thrive on.
“They try to cause a lot of confusion,” Prince said.
While BYU has been one of the best teams in terms of pressuring the quarterback, Boise State has been able to be one of the best in protecting its passer.
In the top five in the country in sacks allowed the last four seasons, the Broncos are one of only four teams thus far to not allow a sack.
“They’re a very smart defense, and they aren’t going to give us anything,” Boise State center Matt Paradis said. “We just need to continue getting better, build off what we’ve done.”
After offensive struggles in their first game, the Broncos bounced back with a 599-yard performance last Saturday, marked by a balanced attack with 304 passing yards and their 295 rushing yards. An offense beginning to find its legs collides with a defense that is proving it is one of the best.
“We just put it together,” tight end Gabe Linehan said. “It meant a lot for our egos, for our identity going into this next game, which is a big game. We definitely needed that.”