Last season the Red Wolves were able to go undefeated in the Sun Belt Conference and claim sole possession of the conference title. Once again, Head Coach Blake Anderson’s team had a record-setting offense to help the cause. However, the vastly-improved defense may have been the key factor in bringing home the title. The year before, they had so many injuries on an already thin defensive roster that fielding a starting line-up down the stretch proved very difficult. Nobody panicked during that offseason. One person in particular was Defensive Coordinator, Joe Cauthen. He knew they needed to recruit bodies and just focus on getting better as a unit. Get better they did indeed, as they led the nation in interceptions and fielded a more physical defensive unit. What was noticeable too was an increase in their football I.Q. Guys knew where they needed to be to make plays. They were able to be aggressive because they knew what was happening in any moment. The year-over-year improvement was dramatic. With a ton of talent returning on this year’s roster, Coach Cauthen’s defense looks to improve even more this season.
AstateNation’s 5th Quarter Preseason series continues below with Coach Cauthen.
1st Quarter: When you go to practice, as the coordinator, what do think you focus on most when watching the players and different segments each day? – “For me, I really focus on the communication between the guys on our side of the ball. That’s what’s really fun for me. Are they talking to each other with consistency? Are they telling each other the right calls and adjustments? I want to see them talking to each other and working together. If I’m not seeing it that day then that’s when I need to get in there and get it fixed. Our communication is so important to the function of the defense we run here. If we have don’t have communication right off the bat, chances are that won’t be a great play for us. Now guys can still step up and make a play; but when we communicate clearly what our call and coverage is, we are putting ourselves in the best possible position to succeed on every play.”
2nd Quarter: How would you describe the difference in the roster on defense now, compared to the first day you set foot in Jonesboro? – “Our roster is very much improved. Now we had some great guys on that first squad that played great football for us; many of them playing through injuries that whole season. But the roster now looks very different. Our front seven is better that it’s ever been since we’ve been here. It’s gotten better every semester, not just every year, but every semester. The guys in the back came up huge for us last season in creating turnovers and scoring points too. We expect, with the experience back there, for them to keep creating those turnover opportunities. I’d also say that our football I.Q. has increased tremendously as a whole. Guys have taken ownership of that part of their game and it shows as a unit. Add to that the fact that we have better depth now and I’d say those are the ways this defense looks different now.”
3rd Quarter: What does this defense have to do to improve upon last season’s performance? – “I think we have to take advantage of having the benefit of continuity on our roster and continuity with our coaching staff too. All of us know that the bar for success has been raised now. All of us know where we have to improve to meet that standard and do even better. The key is leveraging our knowledge and experience together to make even more plays. It starts in the position meetings, where again, I think our improved football I.Q. helps this defense play at a high level. And then it continues on the field with great communication. Continuity helps improve communication and like I said before, that is important in putting us in a position to be successful.”
4th Quarter: What position group or player is getting overlooked right now when looking at the defense? – “I think Waylon Roberson is. I feel like he gets extremely overlooked. Nobody recognizes how much he does in the middle to clog everything up. And he does it consistently. I would say our defensive tackles don’t get enough credit for the work they do for us down low. I’m looking forward to watching them get after it this season. For instance, in fall camp to this point, I think we’ve only given up two explosive runs total. So I think the line is getting the job done. And we’re going to have to play well up front in order to stop Mr. Hunt against Toledo in the first game. I feel like we’ve improved the talent there and the depth too.”
Overtime: “Did your experience as a defensive coordinator and having to create detailed game plans help you in creating a great game plan for proposing to your fiancé? – “(laughing)That’s a really good question. I did a lot of research for that, just as we do for every game. But you know what, when it came down to it, everything really just came from the heart. I’ve got a lot of great resources in football to help me, with Gene Chizik probably being the most dominant one that I use. But, I didn’t call on Gene for help with this one. I just trusted what I felt was right for the time. I didn’t know it was going to happen then for sure, but I then began to put the pieces together. I had a sudden change in plans. I think I reacted well to that sudden change. You know, we teach our guys every day about handling those sudden changes(laughing). You can’t panic. Just relax and play, and you know what, that’s what I did. I was more nervous for that moment than I am about Toledo. All I have to do is step up and say yes now, which will be the easiest part yet. And she said yes to the proposal, so now I’m focused on Mr. Hunt.”
We would like to thank Coach Cauthen for his time with the 5th Quarter. Look for more editions of the 5th Quarter with other staff members on AStateNation.