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BYU Defensive Line Has The Experience To Create More Disruption In 2020

Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga celebrates a first down in the closing minutes against the Boise State Broncos during NCAA football in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – As BYU fans anxiously await future scheduling announcements to replace the missing five games vacated by the Pac-12 and Big Ten, one thing is for sure, regardless of who the Cougars play in 2020 they will need better production from the defensive line if they want to increase their win total.

BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe recently spoke out on the future of the schedule and for the time being, football is still on the table for the fall.

We will assume there will be a season until there isn’t and for Cougar fans and coaches, hope remains there will be a season because this could be one of the better BYU teams in several seasons.

There is depth and talent at nearly every position – the defensive line is no exception. It doesn’t hurt to have defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga back for his senior season after he flirted with the idea of turning pro a year earlier.

“He really started to come on during the spring,” said fifth-year defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki recently on Cougar Sports Saturday. “As soon as he made the decision to come back, and he came back and worked his butt off, he looked like a different guy. Now he looks like what an NFL defensive tackle should look like.”

A disruptive Tonga, along with other returning defensive tackles Lorenzo Fauatea and Atunaisa Mahe should help the defense put more pressure on the quarterback.

Last season the Cougars defensive unit produced 17 sacks. They ranked 117th out of 130 schools.

“That doesn’t fall on the defensive line, not in my eyes,” said Tuiaki. “If you can apply pressure with four, that’s always great, but the game plan has a lot to do with it. I don’t talk much about sacks, never have in all the years I’ve coached defensive line. I’d love to lead the country in sacks every single year but more important than that is being good at keeping points off the board.”

If you don’t believe that statistic is important, BYU also finished 117th in the country in tackles for loss. Quite frankly, there wasn’t enough havoc from the Cougar defense, and that starts with the defensive line.

The tackle position is proven. There is depth and talent in the middle. The defensive end position is not as proven.

Seniors Zac Dawe, Uriah Leiataua, and Bracken El-Bakri will be awarded the first chance to carve out permanent roles, but they’ll be pushed hard by newcomers Tyler Batty and Fisher Jackson, amongst others.

“During my four years here we’ve primarily been a four-down defense, with a little bit more three-down last year,” said Tuiaki. “The elements of both are going to exist every single year because of difference schematical things.”

The Cougars will implore more four down lineman this season, but you can expect to see plenty of 3-4 as well.

The Cougars finished 68th in total defense a season ago. Having a healthy, experienced, defensive line would go a long way in helping BYU achieve another top 25 defense like Kalani Sitake saw during his first season at the helm.

Sleeper Picks From Cougar Sports Saturday

Each week on Cougar Sports Saturday until the season begins, Mitch Harper and Matt Baiamonte will be previewing position groups. Each week they select players weekly from each position group who are being slept on to make a name for themselves this season. The last position preview on the show was the defensive line.

Matt Baiamonte sleeper pick: Freshman Tyler Batty

“He’s got that prototypical size and speed to be an edge rusher and I wouldn’t be surprised if he cracks the rotation.”

Mitch Harper sleeper pick: Sophomore Alema Pilimai

“He moves over from tight end to defensive end, a three-star prospect out of high school, turned down Utah to sign with BYU. I think he has found a home at defensive end and don’t be surprised if he’s in that second string.”

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