BYU Continues To Install Jay Hill’s ‘Complicated’ Defense During Spring

Mar 21, 2023, 6:31 PM

PROVO, Utah – It doesn’t take long to notice Jay Hill at a BYU football spring practice.

The winningest coach in Weber State history has a strong voice that carries whether it’s inside the Indoor Practice Facility or on the rare occasion weather looks like spring and its outside.

“[I’m] passionate about football. I want things done the right way, disciplined, detailed, I think is big,” said Hill. “I’m also not scared to get excited and geeked up, and chest bump a player. But also, I’ll be the first one to get in their butt a little bit and rip them when they need to. And they know that. I think if you love your players and they know you love them, you can be hard on them, but at the same time, be the first one to celebrate with them.”

All of the right things are being said by Hill as he takes over a BYU football defense that was 93rd nationally in total defense (408.1 yards per game) last season. But what’s being installed?

Like many defenses in college football, Hill’s defense will be multiple. The base look will consist of a four-man front. Hill comes from the coaching tree of Kyle Whittingham, so that shouldn’t come as any surprise. But after that, Hill wants a versatile defense that delivers what BYU fans and Kalani Sitake have wanted the past few years, an aggressive scheme.

BYU football is installing a complicated defensive scheme

That takes a lot of work. So BYU’s defensive players are getting a lot thrown at them by Hill and his staff during these 15 spring practices.

“I would say it’s one of the more complicated [schemes] in college football. We have a lot and we do a lot of different things,” said Hill to the KSL Sports Zone’s Hans & Scotty G. “We’ll play man, cover three, we zone pressure with two high safeties, zone pressure with one high safety.”

Hill then mentioned another scheme that will surely make Cougar fans happy, “We’ve got a drop-eight package.”

But it doesn’t stop there.

“We’ve got a lot of man pressures, zone pressures. There are a lot of things that we do. And it’s really hard on the linebackers and the safeties, as far as learning goes.”

That’s why the absences of injured linebackers Max Tooley, Ben Bywater, and Chaz Ah You are significant for BYU this spring. It’s opened the door for freshmen linebackers Isaiah Glasker, Ace Kaufusi, and Maika Kaufusi to make a case for playing time in BYU’s first season as a Big 12 team.

At safety, the position group Hill coaches directly, BYU is in good hands with returning starters Micah Harper and Malik Moore anchoring the starting roles. Then experienced Talan Alfrey backs them up, with Preston Rex and Chika Ebunoha pushing for a spot on the two-deep.

Technique teachings for the defensive line and cornerbacks

“Then you know, for the defensive line and corners, there’s not quite as much learning. But there’s a lot of technique and skill that obviously has to go into those positions where those guys have a lot to learn,” said Hill.

Count nose tackle Caden Haws as someone who likes the new techniques that Hill is incorporating into this new scheme for the linemen.

“It’s way aggressive. We’re not two-gapping anymore or anything like that. It’s a lot more gap sound,” said Haws. “We get to fire off the ball and then create some havoc. So way different [defense].”

The defensive line is showing signs of improvement and depth. Tyler Batty leads the way for the group as a veteran defensive end. A former star out of Payson High School, Sitake has always been high on the potential of Batty becoming a double-digit sack artist for BYU football, but it hasn’t materialized yet. However, this scheme with Kelly Poppinga and Jan Jorgensen still on the staff as an analyst, will look to tap into Batty’s potential heading into his fourth year in Provo.

Boise State transfers Isaiah Bagnah and Jackson Cravens have provided an instant spark. Sitake noted that Bagnah has great ability as a pass rusher, but there’s more to achieve as an edge rusher in this scheme. Cravens has been praised for being a leader by example in team meetings.

At cornerback, Weber State transfer Eddie Heckard has provided an instant boost to the cornerback unit. A former FCS All-American, Heckard could play at corner or nickel in the secondary. Heckard comes into the BYU football program with a chip on his shoulder out to prove that his success at the FCS wasn’t a fluke as he prepares to take on high-powered Big 12 offenses.

All about flexibility

Jay Hill looks to bring all of this together to a defense he will be flexible with to put his personnel in the best position to succeed.

“There’s got to be some flexibility,” Hill said to KSL Sports. “You can’t stick a round peg in a square hole or vice versa, right? And you’ve got to be able to adapt, and you’ve got to be able to adjust, and personnel is probably the most important thing. If we can’t either get the right cover guys, then we’re gonna have to do something to coverages to put ourselves in good position to be successful. Same with the front. If we don’t have the horses up front that we need to stop the run, then we’re gonna have to find some creative ways to still get that done.”

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Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Continues To Install Jay Hill’s ‘Complicated’ Defense During Spring