BYU's Kaufusi up for putting brakes on UM run game

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

It has been an up-and-down career at BYU for Bronson Kaufusi.

But only in terms of his weight.

During his BYU athletic career, which also includes a brief stint with the basketball team, the 6-foot-8 Kaufusi has weighed anywhere between 235 and 280 pounds. He was at his lowest weight when he returned from his mission at the start of preseason football camp, but then reached 280. But when he joined the basketball team as a freshman — his nickname was LeBronson — he dropped to 262 in a month because of all the running.

His role on the defense has also fluctuated, but he will be starting at defensive end when the No. 22-ranked Cougars play Michigan at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. Kaufusi, a captain who has 14 tackles this season and a sack, moved to linebacker last season to help replace the Lions' Kyle Van Noy, a second-year player out of BYU. He also is good friends with Ziggy Ansah, a third-year defensive end with the Lions also from BYU.

But Kaufusi is back in his comfort zone on the line where he is coached by another Kaufusi, his father, Steve.

"He's definitely harder on me — he doesn't want to favor me in any way," Bronson Kaufusi said in a telephone interview this week. "I have to earn my spot in everything we do. But when we go home, we don't talk about football."

The BYU defense got a talking-to by head coach Bronco Mendenhall after the Cougars' first loss of the season, 24-23, to UCLA last week. With nose tackle Travis Tuiloma out since the second quarter of the season opener with a knee injury, although there is a chance he might play against Michigan, the Cougars gave up 296 rushing yards. Paul Perkins gained 219 rushing yards, the first time since 2001 BYU has allowed a back to rush for 200 yards or more.

"With coach Mendenhall being with us, he's a defensive guru, mastermind," Kaufusi said. "He's always coming up with great schemes. He expects the defense when we're needed to be there. Against UCLA, we had some opportunities we missed. As a defense, whatever happens, you can't live in the past.

"We love that here (that Michigan likes to run). We love going against the power offenses. It's an opportunity for us to show our physicality. Always the goal is to take away what the offense is best at. (If Tuiloma is available), the nose guard is No. 1 for us, so whatever he does dictates what everyone else does. He's so good at it. He's hard to block. He makes a lot of plays. He's key to our defense."

Kaufusi likes what he has seen on film from Michigan quarterback Jack Rudock, a graduate transfer from Iowa. Rudock has thrown five interceptions and fumbled once while leading Michigan to a 2-1 record.

"It's a different system (than Iowa), and he's developing a new identity within the system," Kaufusi said. "He's the key to the energy amongst them. If he's doing well, I think everyone feeds off him. He hands the ball off a lot, and when his running back does well, he gets excited for him and he gets the offensive line excited."

As for the Cougars' quarterback Tanner Mangum, the 22-year-old freshman who captivated college football fans across the country after back-to-back Hail Mary throws to beat Nebraska and Boise State, Kaufusi said it has been fun to watch the magic.

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"He knows his abilities, and he uses those strengths and knows how to trust himself," Kaufusi said. "Seeing a guy like him who has the confidence in all the throws he makes, it's awesome to see. Seeing his poise and his attitude, people don't realize his work ethic. It's amazing seeing him in the film room, and in practice getting extra throws in."

The Cougars, he said, are thrilled to play at Michigan Stadium.

"Because of the history," he said. "Their history is kind of exciting, but when it comes to the game, it's just another field. That's what it comes down to for us. We love being able to play notable and well-known programs. Being able to go to them, that's part of the deal, and we really love it."

Mendenhall joked this week with local reporters that this would be the ideal game for Tuiloma to return because Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will go with power runs "about 5,000 times."

With or without Tuiloma, the Cougars will have to stop the run and improve their tackling from the UCLA game.

"Generally speaking, the defense is in a good spot, but like coach said, little things end up being big things," Kaufusi said. "Overall, it's a great unit to be part of. It's a tight unit. We're willing to put the work in. We're a humble defense, not in a weak way but in a learning way. Everyone on the defense can learn from mistakes and take constructive criticism and improve."

And showing improvement is the Cougars' plan for the Michigan game.

BYU at Michigan 

Kickoff: Noon today, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ABC/WWJ 950, WTKA 1050

Records: Michigan 2-1, BYU 2-1

Line: Michigan by 4.5

Series: BYU leads 1-0