It’s been six weeks since Brigham Young and San Diego State played the highest-scoring tie in NCAA history, a 52-52 shootout in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, but as the Cougars prepare to make another appearance there in Monday’s Holiday Bowl, the BYU secondary continues to answer for the numerous big plays it gave up in that nationally televised game.
Tony Crutchfield, a three-year starter at cornerback and one of the Cougars’ defensive captains, said Thursday, “It’ll be exciting to get back out before a national audience (on ESPN) and try to perform better than the last time. We’ve heard a lot of . . . guys say we’ve got the worst defense in the country.”
Crutchfield points out that in his career the Cougars have faced Miami and Florida State and not gotten burned as badly, so the Aztecs’ speed was not the problem. “The day of the (San Diego State) game we were without some personnel and we didn’t find out we’d be without some dime and nickel packages until that day,” he said.
“I wasn’t tuned in at the start and they beat me--you don’t expect them to come right at you (deep) on the first play. Then they beat some young guys. It’s not a matter of speed. We’ve played against some of the great wideouts. We can play man-on-man, we’ve just got to execute and stay focused.”
Crutchfield has had three years to practice against one of the best--Ty Detmer. “Me and Ty go head up a lot, we stay on each other but it makes practice fun,” said Crutchfield, who knows BYU’s image won’t change whether the team plays good defense or bad.
“It’s like USC is ‘Tailback U.’ We know the way the system is, we’ve had some good defensive teams. But Brigham Young is ‘Quarterback U.’ It goes along with the territory,” he said. “Good football fans know you can’t win without good defense.”
Iowa linebacker John Derby said the Hawkeyes won’t try to play BYU’s receivers one-on-one, as many Western Athletic Conference teams have.
“The WAC teams are so predictable, they play man-to-man and Ty must sit back there and lick his lips, he does such a great job of reading defenses,” Derby said. “We won’t play man-to-man, we’ll try to keep him guessing.”
Derby, considered the heart of the defense by teammates, said because BYU uses so many receivers, including running backs, the Iowa linebackers will have great responsibility in pass coverage. “We’ll have quite a bit, because (BYU) does such a great job of throwing underneath and throwing on the run, so we’ll be a big part of the game,” he said.
He added with a grin, “I don’t backpedal well. I’ll just turn and run. I love playing in the Big Ten. It’s a physical conference where you knock people down and try to imtimidate. We won’t be able to play like that here, they run too many things at you.”
Iowa’s Leroy Smith, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the dominant lineman at 214 pounds. But the converted running back said Thursday he’s hard to pigeonhole.
“I’m not really a defensive end--I play outside linebacker about 50% of the time. I line up as defensive end in certain schemes,” he said. “In football, people overemphasize size--it’s not the size of the body, it’s the size of the heart.”
Smith, who set a conference record with 18 sacks, said he sometimes fantasizes about returning to running back, though he knows he has a knack for defense. Smith was recruited as a running back but was shifted because the Hawkeyes had a stockpile of good runners.
“I only think about running in my dreams,” he said with a laugh. “I never take that issue very serious. We’ve got good running backs. When they score, that’s the only time I miss it. When they get crunched, that’s when I thank God I’m on defense.”