BYU Position Previews — Defense

With 131 tackles on the year, senior linebacker Uani' Unga is the unquestioned heart of the BYU defense. - Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we examine the defense of the BYU Cougars.

Players to watch
DE Bronson Kaufusi, LB Uani' Unga, LB Kyle Van Noy

Notable injuries/absences
LB Spencer Hadley (Questionable—knee), CB Jordan Johnson (Out—knee), LB Austen Jorgensen (Out—knee), DT Tuni Kanuch (Out—pectoral), CB Sam Lee (Out—back), CB Trent Trammell (Out—knee)

Analysis

Washington's offense is far from one-dimensional, but few would argue against the claim that the team rode Bishop Sankey to victory time and time again. The Huskies finished the regular season with the nation's 14th-ranked rushing attack, and Sankey earned second-team All-America honors en route to scoring 18 rushing touchdowns and earning a program-record 1,775 yards. On Friday, Sankey and his fellow rushers will face one of their greatest challenges yet in BYU, a team that has allowed just nine rushing touchdowns this season to rank 10th in the nation. In fact, of Washington's opponents this season, only Stanford allowed fewer touchdowns than BYU, with seven.

BYU's proficiency in controlling the line of scrimmage starts with defensive end Bronson Kaufusi, a 6-7, 282 lb. monster who has accumulated seven tackles for loss and four sacks on the year. He's also used his size to disrupt the passing game in deflecting six passes. Kaufusi is hardly the only player responsible for the Cougars' fearsome rushing defense, though—their linebacking corps is one of the fiercest in college football, featuring players like Uani' Unga, whose 131 tackles ranks 11th in the nation, and Kyle Van Noy, whose 15.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions either share the team's lead or lead outright in all three categories.

While the Cougars are borderline electric in defending against the run, they're much more pedestrian in defending against the pass, and it is here that Washington will have to execute if they're to take control of the Fight Hunger Bowl. Like virtually every team in America, the Cougars have no obvious answer for Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Washington's multitude of weapons at receiver between Kevin Smith, John Ross, Jaydon Mickens and Damore'ea Stringfellow makes it difficult for them to key in on any one Husky receiver. It also warrants mentioning that, though BYU has allowed its opponents to complete just 56.4 percent of their passes for 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, they also haven't faced a quarterback with the efficiency of Keith Price, whose 8.6 yards per attempt is far better than that of any quarterback the Cougars played against this year. By that measure, the next best player they saw at that position in 2013 was Notre Dame's Tommy Rees, who earned 8.0 yards per attempt this season and completed 15 of 28 passes (53.6 percent) for 235 yards and one touchdown against one interception in a 23-13 victory over the Cougars.

On special teams, BYU allowed its opponents an average of 22.6 yards per kickoff return, ranking 95th in the country. Outside of one kickoff that Houston returned for a touchdown, though, the Cougars were reliable in their coverage, allowing just four other returns for 30 yards or more. Their punt return coverage was more suspect, however, with their opponents' 28 returns averaging 7.8 yards per attempt, including four returns of 20 yards or more. In other words, there's little reason to think that Washington will finally snap its decade-long drought of returning a punt for a touchdown.

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As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.

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