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Unlike most clubs that try to live by the pass, Brigham Young doesn't die with it. The secret, says Coach LaVell Edwards—besides having a quarterback who can throw and receivers who can catch—is having an outstanding defense that can turn other people's interceptions into non-victories. "And this year," he says, "our defense has size and quickness and could be our best ever." Coming off of a 9-2 season in which the Cougars gave up an average of 16 points a game while scoring 32, that is no idle threat.
BYU's defenders once again are led by Mekili Ieremia, a 6'2", 238-pound end who does a war dance after each of his many quarterback sacks (17 last year), which is what you might expect from a native of Samoa who arrived in the States by sailboat, was befriended by a Protestant minister and learned his football at Sleepy Hollow (N.Y.) High. Ieremia's main henchmen are Defensive Tackle Gary Peterson (6'4", 270), Middle Linebacker Rod Wood (6'1", 225), Larry Miller (a 6'5" Ted Hendricks look-alike at linebacker) and 176-pound senior Safety Tony Hernandez. They erase a lot of aerial mistakes.
Not that the Cougars just toss up the ball and pray. They let Quarterback Gifford Nielsen use the pass the way other teams use the ground game—to probe, to trap, going for five yards instead of 50. Instead of bombs, BYU hurts opponents with delays and quickies, with flare controls and sprintouts.
"You can drive defenses crazy with diversified passing." says Edwards. "We love to turn that underneath pass coverage inside out by sneaking Fullback Todd Christensen out of the backfield, and when he gets the ball, with his speed, watch out.
"Let's face it," says the Cougar coach, "I love the passing game. Fans love the passing game. We turned our whole season around last year with a bomb at the last second against Arizona. That's the beauty of the pass. You're a threat until the final minute."
With the return of the 6'5", 203-pound Nielsen, a first-team Football Writers All-America, plus all of last season's top receivers—speedsters John VanDerWouden, Mike Chronister and George Harris, and Tight End Tod Thompson—WAC rivals may come up with a new defense, the 1-1-9: a nose guard, a linebacker and nine guys in the secondary yelling for help.
An added plus is the running game, which should be stronger than last year's despite the loss of Jeff Blanc. Edwards has moved 210-pound Roger Gourley to tailback, and out of the shadow of Christensen, because he is too talented to be wasted as a second-string fullback. But with Casey Wingard, Clay Blackwell and Robbie Kahuanui on hand, he will be fighting for a job.