|« Rivalry goes back long way for Toreros twins||Essington ready to step in at QB for Stony Brook »|
Dynamite defense: NAU limiting opponents
Charged by a core of veteran leaders on the defensive line, loaded with an experienced linebacking core and capped off by a secondary full of youthful energy, the Northern Arizona football team’s defensive unit is a powder keg just waiting for its fuse to be lit each week.
Early in the season, the Lumberjacks’ defense stymied opponents with its run defense to allow just 54 running yards on average per game, and two weeks ago kept Idaho State – the best passing team in the nation – off the scoreboard and recorded 10 1/2 sacks.
After getting rested and putting some work into some technique and fundamentals during a bye week, the NAU defense is jacked and ready to prove itself yet again against the defending Division I national champions, Eastern Washington.
“After an early letdown against Portland State, we played a great second half and that carried over to the Idaho State game, so we’re ready to take advantage of the bye week into a game where we’re a lot more prepared than they are,” senior linebacker Scott McKeever said.
McKeever anchors a linebacking corps of a Big Sky Conference-leading defense that is No. 1 in scoring, total defense, pass defense and pass defense efficiency.
NAU head coach Jerome Souers said that his defense had some time during the bye week to take care of some important things that will help the team even more.
“We’ve had some extra practice time and time to think about the last few games and the game coming up against Eastern,” Souers said.
Jacks’ defensive coordinator Andy Thompson added that the bye week was the perfect chance to carry over all the good things the NAU defense did against Idaho State.
“Last (game) was the perfect storm: We got ahead playing against a passing team and they were forced to try to push the ball down the field. Our coverage held up and our front four got after them,” Thompson said.
He went on to say the defense did a lot of work cleaning up the play of the younger guys, who make up a big part of the defense.
“Our young players – we start a lot of young guys – we had the chance to work with those guys and shore up their technique and they found that they can do well when their technique is good, so we’re just trying to build on what we’ve already done,” Thompson said.
One of those guys Thompson was talking about, sophomore cornerback Randy Hale Jr., said the defense is just working to get better every week.
“I think we’re where we need to be, but we need to continue to work,” Hale Jr. said. “I feel like every week we need to keep working and getting better, but confidence is still high and it was good to have a week to rest, but we’ve still got to work.”
Souers added that in his eyes, his defense continues to mature every week.
“We get a little bit better at what we’re doing, and that’s our goal,” Souers said. “We were able to establish a pure passing situation (against ISU) and it’s true that a more balanced offense can give you more of a headache trying to defend both.”
McKeever echoed the importance Souers put on being able to defend both the pass and run, but said the Lumberjacks will be able to provide a balanced scheme to equal that of any team NAU faces.
“Not only are we going to have to play excellent coverage but we’re also going to have to get pressure on the quarterback for our safeties, so we’re going to have to play like we did last (game) where each guy is doing his own job so others can make plays,” McKeever said.
Something that will help is the fact that NAU has been waiting two weeks to take on another team rather than just going up against teammates in practice, so they’re hungry for a game.
“It feels like camp where you’re going against the same guys every day, but it’s been good for us because we’ve been able to get our timing down and catch up on some rest and we’re all hungry to come out and get another win,” McKeever said.