BYU defense anxious to see young Georgia Tech quarterback

Updated: August 26, 2003, 7:59 PM ET

PROVO, Utah -- Facing a quarterback who was finishing high school just a few months ago could be a welcome sight for a defense trying to erase an embarrassing year.

BYU, coming off its first losing season since 1971, will be the first team to try to stop Georgia Tech freshman Reggie Ball when the Cougars and Yellow Jackets open the season Thursday night.

"I lick my chops at anything. I'm just excited to play the game," BYU defensive end Brady Poppinga said. "I'm excited for whoever's going to be there. For a freshman, I want to welcome him to college football in the right way. I really do."

Poppinga, who led the Mountain West Conference with eight sacks a year ago, will have to catch him first. Ball, who won't turn 19 until October, impressed coach Chan Gailey enough with his speed and athletic ability that he's getting the start over senior A.J. Suggs.

"This true freshman, he obviously must have been pretty good or they would go with the senior and bring the true freshman in," BYU coach Gary Crowton said Tuesday.

The Cougars struggled last season with a 5-7 record. BYU allowed 384.7 yards and 27.8 points per game last season. Crowton hired former New Mexico defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall to take over.

"He's not conservative, so don't expect conservative defense on Thursday," Poppinga said.

The new defense against Tech could be an interesting matchup. Neither side really knows what to expect. The Yellow Jackets can look at video of Mendenhall's defense last season at New Mexico, but what he's doing with the BYU players is still a mystery.

As for the Cougars, all they have to look at right now of Ball is footage from his senior season at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga.

"We've seen high school film on him. He can make big plays with his arm and his feet," Crowton said. "We've got to contain him basically and confuse him. I think we can confuse him, it's containing him that's a problem."

Gailey, in his second season at Tech, plans to be cautious with his new quarterback,

"Until you get on the field with a new defensive coordinator, you don't know," Gailey said. "Since you don't know what they're going to do, you have to have a generic game plan, and a generic game plan helps a freshman quarterback more than anything."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index