September 6, 2017
The BYU defense allowed 294 yards on 57 carries (an average of 5.2 yards per carry) to the LSU running backs in last Saturday’s 27-0 loss to the Tigers in New Orleans.
What isn’t tracked in the official statistics is how many of those yards came after initial contact.
“Something both (head coach Kalani Sitake) and (defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki) mentioned at halftime was that we weren’t wrapping up,” BYU junior linebacker Butch Pau’u said after the game. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is being able to take someone one-on-one, being able to tackle them. Today there were a lot of arm tackles, a lot of diving — on my part too. We weren’t very sound defensively.”
What the BYU defensive players and coaches made clear this week, however, is they are determined to miss fewer tackles moving forward.
“LSU’s running backs were good at staying on their feet,” BYU senior safety Micah Hannemann said Tuesday. “Sometimes you can get away without wrapping up or with just wrapping up a little bit, but now it needs to be a perfect, wrap-up tackle for the running backs to go down.”
Tuiaki said Tuesday the issue wasn’t effort.
“It’s really technique stuff,” Tuiaki said. “Guys were leaving their feet early, guys being in bad position and making arm tackles. We have to do a better job of that. That was one of the negatives of the game.”
Tuiaki said he saw some positives for his defense to build on from the LSU loss.
“There were a lot of good things but also a lot of things we’ve got to work on,” Tuiaki said. “There were some opportunities that we missed to get out of some third-and-longs, but overall it wasn’t as bad as what the score showed. I thought the kids battled all the way to the end.”
Sitake doesn’t believe the tackling issues were indicative of not being physical enough in the weeks leading up to the game.
“We were physical in camp,” Sitake said Monday. “The game of football has changed and so there is probably going to be a drop-off, but everyone has to deal with that. We could be sitting here saying that if we’d been more physical, we would’ve lost people. We’re not as deep as at a lot of other places, so it is a thin line.”
It’s not as simple as just saying “tackle better” and moving on.
BYU senior defensive lineman Handsome Tanielu explained that timing and positioning often determine the effectiveness of tackling.
“In the past, we have been good at tackling,” Tanielu said. “I feel like the difference in this game was that we had a lot of opportunities to read the plays and if that isn’t fast enough, there is less impact time.
“A lot of it has to do with timing on tackling. If reading is slow, then tackling is slow. I wouldn’t say necessarily that the tackling was terrible but the timing was terrible. That’s something we are working on.”
The Cougars need to improve quickly, since their next opponent — rival Utah — is certain to try to exploit any weaknesses.
Hannemann explained it shouldn’t be a huge adjustment, since textbook tackling is what defenders should be trained to do.
“It should come naturally, but there definitely needs to be a change to get a harder wrap-up,” Hannemann said. “It’s not like we are going in there just trying to hit them.
“There is an effort there but there isn’t a strong mindset that this guy isn’t getting past me. I feel like that was a good lesson learned.”