It’s red vs blue, church vs state, the Cougars vs the Utes. When you break it down though, there are a lot more moving parts that make up a rivalry game. It’s more than the Cougarettes vs Ute cheerleaders or Cosmo vs Swoop. There are 22 players on thIt’s red vs blue, church vs state, the Cougars vs the Utes. When you break it down though, there are a lot more moving parts that make up a rivalry game. It’s more than the Cougarettes vs Ute cheerleaders or Cosmo vs Swoop. There are 22 players on the field at a time. Each player has a specific position with a role they need to fulfill to help their team win. It’s time to break down a very important position for one of the most heated rivalries in college football.e field at a time. Each player has a specific position with a role they need to fulfill to help their team win. It’s time to break down a very important position for one of the most heated rivalries in college football.
BYU Defense: The Cougars are no slouch on defense. Their deficiencies in the last two years have been mostly on the offensive end. The defense could be even more dangerous if the offense could stay on the field long enough to give them some rest. Let’s take a look at the projected starters.
DE – Devin Kaufusi: This is certainly a well known name in Provo. The Kaufusis have been mostly good football athletes with a brother Corbin who did basketball for a while. This explains the height as Devin, the shorter of the brothers, still stands at a towering 6 foot 7. Their mother is currently the mayor of Provo.
Devin is the perfect defensive end because the first two letters of his name are DE. In his first season he did get a couple good tackles. Three of his tackles were solos and two were assists. One of them was also a sack. This is pretty good for a freshman without a ton of playing time. If Devin wins the starting job, look for his numbers to significantly increase. He saw significant action in 4 games last year. If he plays all 12 it only makes sense that his tackle count triples at least.
He should make things interesting in the Holy War but he can’t do it alone. The whole defense, offense and special teams will have to have an A+ against a Ute team that has beaten them even in C+ performances in this 9 game win streak.
NT – Khyris Tonga: This nose tackle is a big boy on the line. Imagine a six foot four and 324 pound dude coming at you. That’s enough to scare anyone in the backfield.
This isn’t the first college town Khyiris has spent time in. He grew up in the Ute country of West Valley, Utah and played for Granger High School. He served a mission in Wichita, Kansas which is much more of a basketball than football school as their school no longer fields a football program but has put several teams deep into the NCAA Tournament for basketball.
Tonga turned the heads of NFL scouts at the Wisconsin game last year that mostly had come to see Wisconsin. Look for him to be on the NFL radar next year if he decides to forego his senior season.
The stats speak for itself. Even amidst BYU‘s struggles, Tonga’s high motor speaks more volumes than perhaps the stats do. Watch him get off the blocks and out hustle even his own lighter teammates to get this tackle.
He forced just one fumble against San Jose State in his career but still had solid stats as far as tackles are concerned. He had 49 tackles in two seasons and more than half of them were solos. He also has recorded two sacks each year.
This is one of the few BYU players to be poached from Utah. Usually it’s the other way around. Either way, Tonga is an example that if you’re a defensive specialist looking to maximize your talent, BYU is a good option. If BYU had half the offensive firepower they did in the 80s then this defense could carry them to a win.
DT – Bracken El Bakri: After an impressive freshman campaign, El Bakri looks to back up the Cougars in his second year. He had 23 tackles and forced a fumble against UMass in Gillette Stadium where former Cougar Kyle VanNoy’s own defense is helping Tom Brady get even more Super Bowl rings.
A good name for this year’s BYU team could be Brighton Young University as El Bakri is another one to add to the list of Brighton High defenders who are starting for the Cougars.
DE – Trajan Pili: Trajan is hoping that his Sin City roots will make Provo a Win City again. He is probably one of the most improved on the defense. He gradually increased his production from eight tackles his freshman year to 17 and 27 in his sophomore and junior years respectively. He will be the senior leadership the Cougars need as they look to close the gaps on the Utes.
OLB – Max Tooley: This linebacker is a little wet behind the ears but it’s the next man up after starters on the defense like Corbin Kaufusi graduated. In his first season at BYU Max did manage to make 2 tackles: one against the Aggies of New Mexico State and one against the Utes.
Max has a lot of pride for the Cougars as he is a Utah native from the beautiful city of Bountiful. At 6 foot 2 and 225 pounds he isn’t your biggest guy on the line in college although he was certainly the big man on campus as he was on the Deseret News 4A All-State football team. He is also great at hitting the books as he was on the honor roll 4 times in high school. It will be harder on the field and in the books at Brigham Young University but count on Tooley to be up for the challenge and produce more hard hits with more playing time.
MLB – Isaiah Kaufusi: What is a sophomore slump? No really, Isaiah Kaufusi has no idea what that is. Granted he played more games his sophomore year but who could have predicted it would have resulted in 50 tackles, a forced fumble and two interceptions in 2018?
The Kaufusis are basically building a strong BYU defense for generations to come and Isaiah is a big part of that. He has 6 uncles and 11 cousins who have all played for BYU.
He excelled on both sides of the ball as he caught 33 passes as a receiver while recording 92 tackles for the Brighton High Bengals in his senior year of prep football.
Isaiah has deep Tongan roots and was able to return to the land of his ancestors in a 2 year LDS mission. When it comes to building the Kingdom, the Kaufusis are definitely help BYU do that from a football perspective. If Isaiah played receiver in a couple games like he did in high school, maybe the Cougar offense would be just as electric.
LB – Zayne Anderson: This fifth year senior might not be the biggest or fastest defender on BYU but his knowledge of defensive techniques should help him be a leader in the locker room for the Cougars. Last year he had a brief stint in what was supposed to be his senior season before deciding to step away from football due to injury. He tried to play through the injury and still had a few exciting plays including an interception that played a crucial part in BYU’s upset over the then #6 nationally ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
Fifth year seniors like Zayne might not get the same attention that fifth year senior Taysom Hill did three years ago at quarterback but he is one of the men in the trenches who should help the unsung heroes of the BYU defense carry the team when needed.
CB – Chris Wilcox: Chris has been a good cornerback for the Cougars. While he has yet to record his first interception, he has made plenty of tackles to prevent opposing receivers from running up the score. Since he is a cornerback most of his tackles are solo since it is a lot more open space without a whole line to help him out. His most productive game last year was at Wisconsin where he recorded 9 tackles. It is amazing to see how many of these BYU defenders stepped up to win a game where their quarterback only threw for only 89 yards. Look for Chris to go all out for his senior season.
CB – Dayan Ghanwoloku: If there’s one guy who has the potential to help BYU create a lot of turnovers, this is the guy. He recovered 4 fumbles last year and forced a fumble against New Mexico State. Dayan is quick and has good hands which is important to have for a cornerback. Don’t be fooled by his smaller frame. If you’re a Utah receiver, you don’t want to get hit by this guy. If Tyler Huntley is deciding where to throw the ball, he should pick the side that Dayan isn’t on.
FS – Austin Lee: Mom always says, safety first. Safeties have to be smart since they have to read the offense and decide if they need to help cover the run or the pass. If an offensive player gets past the safety then the defense could be in a world of trouble. You’re looking at a possible touchdown or red zone at best depending on how well the small cornerbacks can tackle.
Austin Lee is a smart safety. He has been on both sides of the rivalry so he has at least an inkling of how Coach Whittingham‘s system works. He had a decent game against the Utes last year with three tackles so look for him to keep the visitors honest with their offensive schemes.
SS – Troy Warner: Troy is more of the meat and potatoes safety. Yes he is smart but his athletic ability is what makes most offensive players wince before getting hit by him.
Warner shows up in big games. In perhaps the two toughest matchups of the year, he recorded 5 tackles against Washington and 4 against Wisconsin. He did not play in the Holy War last year but was impressive in the 2017 matchup as he made 5 tackles. Look for Warner to make a big statement in this game because when healthy he is definitely a positive factor for the Cougars.
Utah Utes Defense: There has to be a reason that the Utes are being picked by some national experts to be a sleeper pick to make the College Football Playoff. Yes they did lose some key pieces but they return several vital pieces, many of those coming on the defense. When they turn it on like they did in the second half of the BYU game last year, this defense can shut teams out.
DE – Bradlee Anae: This senior has been one of the core leaders of the Ute defense for a while. He had an extremely productive season last year with the Utes. He averaged 3.75 tackles per game in their four losses and 4 tackles in their 9 wins. He also had 8 sacks throughout the season. He was big time last year against BYU with a season high 7 tackles along with a sack. He will need to have a similar performance to help the Utes keep the rivalry win streak going. I predict he gets two sacks, a forced fumble and 5 tackles and that should be enough to get the Utes a win no matter what other ways they find to keep the Cougars in it.
DE – Mika Tafua: Tafua had a good season last year. The Laie, Hawaii native has 22 tackles in his first season with the Utes. He did not play in the BYU game last year so look for him to be hungry for some Cougar hunting! I’m calling 2 tackles and a pivotal third down pass deflection.
DT – Leki Fotu: When Leki goes to the eye doctor, tests show he’s seeing doubles. That’s because he had 22 tackles in his sophomore season 33 tackles in his junior season. Let me give Ute fans an elementary math lesson. This pattern says that he should get 44 tackles this season. He had four tackles and a against BYU and
DT – John Penisini: He is one big dude at 333 pounds and 6 feet two inches. In just his sophomore year he recorded 4 tackles in the Holy War last year. Look for him to get at least that many tackles in this game.
LB – Francis Bernard: The way he left BYU might be frowned upon by Cougar fans but Sir Francis Bernard does not hide from the smack talk. He got 8 tackles against his former team and let them hear about it. Since BYU knows him well and now has film on him, he will have to work for those tackles but I think he gets a similar about of tackles with a big play such as a sack or fumble recovery in this game.
LB – Devin Lloyd: Devin wasn’t used much his freshman year with the Utes but he was productive when his number was called. He appeared in three games. His best performance was a 4 tackle showing against Colorado. Look for him to be bigger, faster and stronger
CB – Jaylon Johnson: You might want to throw in a different zip code when this guy is in the area. He had four interceptions last year. He didn’t catch any from Zach Wilson in last year’s Holy War game but he did have a pick against both of Arizona teams, Stanford and Colorado. 4 picks in a season is good for any cornerback in college. This year could be the year he has a pick in the Holy War or at least a pivotal deflection comparable to Richard Sherman over Michael Crabtree in the 2014 NFC Championship.
CB – Tareke Lewis: While he didn’t record an interception last year, Lewis still had a good impact on the Ute defense. At 5 foot 11 and 180 pounds he might seem undersized but he is a quick and aggressive player. He had 16 tackles in seven appearances in his first season. Only one of those tackles was against BYU. This year I don’t think it would be out of this world to suggest he doubles his production in this year’s version of the Holy War and records TWO tackles!
DB – Javelin Guidry: You may not have heard his name unless you threw the javelin in high school track and field but you can bet that this guy wearing jersey #28 will be throwing opposing offenses on their faces. He made two tackles against BYU last year and had a season high eight tackles against Arizona. Expect Javelin to be a huge factor in this game. If the game is low scoring like I think it will be then every possession matters and he needs to be one to help the BYU punting team get a lot of reps in.
FS – Julian Blackmon: He had 38 solo tackles and 10 assists in 2017. He had the exact same numbers in 2018. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say he just might do the same in 2019. He tackled 5 guys wearing BYU jerseys last year. Perhaps he does the same this year. He had an interception last year. You know the drill. It’s same old Julian terrorizing the Cougars as usual.
SS – Terrell Burgess: He played in seven games last year. He had a season high 5 tackles against Arizona. His number will be called to keep those big plays to a minimum on the BYU offensive end.
Bottom Line: BYU has a good defense but Utah is still significantly better. Of BYU’s whole defense, only Troy Warner and the Kaufusi Brothers could possibly start for the Utes. BYU can defend Utah for maybe a half but as we saw last year, when Kyle Whittingham makes adjustments and the Utes get fired up, BYU doesn’t have an answer. BYU will need to keep up the defense for 4 quarters and the fans better get into it. Defenses feed off good crowds and some BYU players called out the homer fans for not being as loud as the Cougar roadies.