Indeed, the defense has responded and has been more active and quicker when it comes to filling gaps and getting to the right spots in coverage. One of the bigger reasons for the improved play is the return of starting Mike linebacker Matt Bauman to the practice field.
From the first day of Bauman's return it was apparent that he was able to fill the coverage voids left by some of the newer players filling in for him. Bauman's presence makes a huge difference, as he's well-seasoned at his position and.
"Bauman gives us a boost for sure when he plays," noted Nixon. "He knows the defense very well and we know how to work well together. Anytime you get your main guys in the lineup it makes a difference, so having Matt definitely helps us."
One of the bigger improvements the defense has seen over the past few days according to Nixon was playing better defense against play action. Again, this can be directly related to the insertion of Bauman into the starting lineup, among other factors.
"We're excited with how we've been doing out there," said Nixon. "We're flying around quicker and more aggressive, and that's because we're all making our reads quicker. It's really starting to come together and we just need to keep it going."
Friday's practice saw the team play much sharper and quicker on both sides of the ball. The competitive level was also turned up a bit as the team draws closer to its kickoff against Northern Iowa. The team is starting to feel the season get nearer and nearer with every practice session.
"We can smell it, it's almost here," observed Nixon. "We're close and we're excited and we have to get ready. So, I think you're seeing that out there. Time is short and we need to make the most of our time because the season is about here already."
The team closes most practices by chanting in unison "Champions!" as they break the final huddle. Friday my ears did a double-take as I heard the team yell, "BCS!" instead.
"It's just one of those things," said Nixon. "We change it every so often and today that's what it was. That's our goal, obviously. It's not a big secret. But our first goal still is and always is the Mountain West Conference championship and a bowl win. But for sure, we want to go to a BCS bowl and that's our last goal after the other two that I mentioned."
First Things First
For right now though the team is focused on their opening game against Northern Iowa. Although Northern Iowa is a Football Championship Subdivision team, the Cougars aren't taking them lightly and have poured over film in order to familiarize themselves with their first opponent.
"They're a solid team and a team we need to be ready for," said Nixon. "They run the ball very well and it's definitely not a game we're overlooking. I've spent a lot of time watching film on them and I know most of the defense has as well."
Although Northern Iowa lost a lot last year on the offensive side of the ball, Nixon is aware that they have a solid program that will present itself at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"They're an opponent and we always just concentrate fully on the next opponent at hand," said Nixon. "All our focus is toward them because they're our first game. We're not thinking about the next game, our bowl game or breaking the BCS, we're thinking about Northern Iowa, because if you don't then those other things aren't likely to come. You have to focus totally on your task at hand."
-Scott Johnson stood out during practice, providing great coverage on Michael Reed on a deep post and knocking down the pass in the process. Vic So'oto recorded a sack, while Matt Bauman made his presence known by playing all over the field and knocking down at least one pass in coverage.
-Mahuika joined with Tom Sorensen in rejoining Friday's practice. For Sorensen, surgery is not an option, or at least one he wants to think about. "My shoulder feels fine right now, but we'll see how it feels tomorrow," said Sorensen following his first full day of reps since being held out. "I want to play and I'm going to do everything possible to play. I don't even want to think about not playing this year and having surgery."
-Head coach Bronco Mendenhall mentioned that G Pittman is gaining ground on Brandon Howard at the starting field cornerback position. Mendenhall intends Saturday's scrimmage to be a further determining factor in deciding the two-deep roster and who will be playing in games this season.
-Jordan Pendleton came back to practice and was with the third-team defense. Steven Thomas and Daniel Sorensen were the safeties with the second-team defense while Andrew Rich joined with Kellen Fowler at safety with the first team.
-Wayne Latu had the best run of the day, taking the ball up the middle of the line for a run of 30 yards. He probably would have gone the distance had coaches not blown the whistle.