Last week both got extended time off for the first time this season and coach James Willis says it was well deserved.
"It just tells you how well our strength program is," Willis says. "Their bodies are holding up. They have been playing every game and starting every game. Hats off to Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) because he makes that happen. The guys are really durable and they may get a few bumps and bruises, but it's nothing that really keeps them out. I think that's because of how they work out in the offseason."
Coming into last week's game the Tigers were determined to get more players on the field on defense and that's exactly what happened in a 27-0 shutout of Arkansas State. With redshirt freshman Tray Blackmon in the starting lineup the defense controlled things early. Despite not playing long Blackmon made two big hits early and also recovered a fumble. Willis says that's just more of the solid play he's seen from Blackmon since he joined the team following a six-game suspension to start the season.
"You could put a camera on him and really teach fundamentally how to tackle," Willis says. "Just watch him every day. He's a natural linebacker. He's instinctive and he knows how to get his body in position to make tackles. He's just a natural.
"You tell him something one time and he gets it," Willis adds. "I think that's huge. It's something that is really not that common. Guys make mistakes but this guy you tell him something once and he fixes it and corrects it and lines up right the rest of the time.
"Honestly, he grades out better than any of our linebackers. What he has is intangibles. He has this knack for always making the coach right. He does these things on the field and you wonder ‘how did he do that?' You really enjoy coaching that guy. It's contagious also because the plays he makes and the way he hits, the other guys want to do the same thing."
Patrick Trahan was second on the team in tackles against Arkansas State.
With Herring and Dede relegated to the sidelines early in the contest the play at linebacker didn't take a drastic drop when Merrill Johnson and Patrick Trahan went on the field along with Chris Evans. The group played well enough to keep the shutout intact. Willis says he was particularly pleased with the play of redshirt freshman Trahan because he hasn't had as much experience as the other linebackers so far this season.
"It was great for us for a couple of reasons," Willis says. "First we got to rest some of the older guys. We also got those guys in the game and got them some actual game reps to see what they could do under the lights when the pressure is on.
"I was really pleased with Patrick Trahan. He came out and played solid. He lined up right the whole time. He had a few mistakes here or there, but that's to be expected. He made some plays and really showed us what we thought he could do. It's just the beginning for him. I'm looking forward to working with him in the future and hopefully he can help us some time down the road also."
With the brunt of 10 consecutive games weighing heavily on the team the coaching staff decided to give the older players Sunday off for the second week in a row. Needing to rest the veterans, the coaches have used the time to work with the younger players each Sunday. Willis says the time spent has been important for him as he's been able to teach and get the players ready to take over next season.
"It's huge because a lot of times during the week you don't get a lot of individual and fundamental time," the coach says. "The young guys go with the scout team or some of them are just second and third team guys and don't get many reps. When you get that much time with them hands on it's almost like another spring or training camp. It's huge for us."