BYU Football Preview: How the Cougar offense will fare against a stout Navy defense

The Cougars are just days away from the 2020 season opener at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. The Cougar offense will face a very aggressive Navy defense that finished the 2019 season ranked No. 16 in the country in total defense.

“I have a lot of respect for (Navy’s) defense and their defensive coordinator,” BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said.

Brian Newberry is in his second year as Navy’s defensive coordinator and safeties coach. Newberry helped the Midshipmen improve from a 3-10 record in 2018 to an impressive 11-2 record in 2019, finishing the season in the AP Top 25.

“They are not your typical academy defense,” Grimes said. “(They are) much more aggressive, sixteenth overall in total defense in the county and tenth in rush defense. This is a good defense.” 

Clark Barrington, who earned Fall Camp MVP honors and the starting spot at left guard this season, explained the role that the offensive line has in securing a win in Annapolis.

“We need to be the ones to set the tone,” Barrington said. “As we take care of what we need to take care of up front, everything else will follow.”

James Empey, Chandon Herring, Brady Christensen and Tristen Hoge join Barrington on the offensive line. 

The BYU depth chart for the Navy game was released on Aug. 31, with junior Zach Wilson at the top as the starting quarterback. Grimes said that Wilson didn’t quite have the same “zip” on the ball last year as he did as a true freshman, but said Wilson has regained that power as his health and strength are better than ever.

Wilson suffered a severe injury to his shoulder before the start of the 2019 season that hindered his strength.

Junior wide receiver and Wilson’s roommate, Dax Milne, shed light on the quarterback’s current state. “Nothing is holding him back,” Milne said. “He’s ready to make any throw that he needs given the play and he is going to be great this year.” 

Junior quarterback Zach Wilson makes a throw during 2020 fall camp in Provo. Wilson was named the starter for the season opener at Navy on Labor Day, leading a promising BYU offense against a sharp Navy defense. (BYU Photo)

The Cougars return 95.8% of all passing yards and 70.4% of all rushing yards from the 2019 season. Wilson’s backfield includes returning backs Lopini Katoa and Tyler Allgeier, who the coaching staff described as clear standouts in the running back room. Gunner Romney, Dax Milne and Neil Pau’u will take most of the reps at wide receiver this season and have been named the starters for Labor Day against Navy. 

Matt Bushman’s unexpected season-ending injury certainly threw a wrench in head coach Kalani Sitake’s plans, but Sitake says Bushman will still be an important part of the team’s season.

“The goal now is to play for him and to honor him,” Sitake said. “His leadership will still carry on.” 

Milne described what the offensive will be like in Bushman’s absence, after the star tight end led the team in receptions the last three years in a row.

“We are using different guys for different plays that Matt was the key part of,” Milne said. “We were already going into it planning on making plays, so this is just another point of motivation for us.” 

BYU’s experience on the offensive end, along with a depth of talent at several positions, will have to shine through for a victory over Navy’s formidable defense in primetime on Labor Day in front of millions of viewers. The game begins at 6 p.m. MDT on ESPN.

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