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BYU football has to flip the turnover script to get back to winning

October 13, 2018
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Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Tanner Jacobson (25) runs with the ball after picking off an interception during a game between Brigham Young University and McNeese State University held Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Through the first four games of the 2018 season, the BYU football team enjoyed a healthy plus-5 turnover margin as the Cougars forced four interceptions and four fumbles.

Even more importantly, BYU scored 27 more points off of turnovers than its opponents did during those games.

The result was a 3-1 record that could’ve been 4-0 with a better showing against Cal.

In the last two blowout losses, however, BYU is minus-3 in the same category with Washington and Utah State scoring 28 points off of one Cougar interception and three fumbles. BYU did get one fumble recovery on special teams that it turned into a touchdown, but that was after the outcome was decided against the Huskies.

The conclusion from those numbers is obvious: The Cougars have to flip the script back to where it was earlier in the season.

And the BYU defenders are putting it on themselves to improve.

“We think about it a lot, but we have to apply it,” Cougar senior defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi said Tuesday. “A lot of times when you are going in to make a tackle, you don’t think to punch the ball out. You just think you are going to make the tackle. It’s one of those things where you have to make a conscious effort to remember in games.”

He said it’s the same concept in trying to get more interceptions.

“It’s about having more ball awareness,” Kaufusi said. “When the ball is in the air, when you are running with your man maybe you try and find it. I think there are a lot of opportunities like that we are missing.”

It’s not going to be easy when BYU faces Hawai’i sophomore quarterback Cole McDonald, who has only thrown two interceptions all year. The Cougars know that they have to find ways to make him uncomfortable.

“We have to disguise a lot of things,” BYU senior linebacker Butch Pau’u said. “Sometimes you want to show you are blitzing and you drop back into coverage, make him re-think where he has to go with the ball. It’s basically a mind game with us as linebackers and him as a quarterback.”

Pau’u believes the Cougars have the linebackers who can make it hard for McDonald to make his reads.

“We have linebackers who can show different things at once, so he is going to have to read off of us,” Pau’u said. “We’ve seen that his two favorite receivers are his slot receivers. If we can take advantage of disguising our coverage, we will be able to confuse him a little bit and get him out of his game.”

The Cougars went to Hawai’i in 2017 and defeated the Rainbow Warriors, 30-20, as they held quarterback Dru Brown to 258 yards through the air.

This is a different Hawai’i team, however.

“They execute better,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “Last year, they had a lot of injuries by the time we played them in the last game. They are playing good ball right now.”

Hawai’i traditionally has a tougher time when traveling to the mainland from the islands. This year the Rainbow Warriors are 2-1 on the road with wins at Colorado State and San Jose State (5OT) and a loss at Army.

The history between the two schools from the old WAC days and the fact that BYU won last year is certain to give plenty of motivation to Hawai’i players. The Cougars know they have to match that.

“We have the fire,” Pau’u said. “We are disappointed in ourselves that we’ve allowed our opponents to put up more than 21 points. I think we are going to match their intensity. We know they will have a lot of energy but so will we. We’re ready for Hawai’i.”

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