"I thought the difference with the defense between this Friday and last Friday is we played a lot harder," said freshman defensive back Garett Nicholson. "I thought we played with a lot more passion. We knew going into today's scrimmage that the coaches take today's practice a lot more serious, and that we need to step it up and have a better performance than we did last week. I think we did that and made plays out there."
Nicholson received high praise from Coach Mendenhall following his performance. Mendenhall mentioned that he feels Nicholson will be a very good player for the program.
"I feel good and I'm confident and feel like I belong out there," Nicholson said. "I just have to take advantage of the opportunities I have when I get them.
During the scrimmage, Nicholson showed very good coverage skills and was able to shadow those receivers he was responsible for. On top of breaking on a Max Hall pass for an interception, Nicholson also covered well on deep routes despite being called for pass interference on one play.
"I was able to make a couple of plays today when I was out there," said Nicholson. "I know I'm still young and still make mistakes, but those things happen when you're young. I'm learning a lot and I'm making great strides. It was fun today."
Like Nicholson, other defenders got into the interception column. Linebacker Dan Van Sweden slanted out on coverage and was able to grab a pass out of the air. Along with Van Sweden, strong safety Shiloah Te'o and walk-on defensive back Blake Morgan both recorded an interception. The secondary was able to confuse the quarterbacks and throw them off their reads Friday.
"Coach Hill has us moving around and doing some things differently before the snap," Nicholson said. "If we are standing around, the quarterback can make his pre-snap reads easier, so we're doing some things that are making it more confusing for the quarterbacks without showing too much or getting too far out of position. We are definitely disguising our coverages a lot more than before.
"It feels really good knowing that we were able to bring it to the offense today. It feels really good going into the weekend, but just as Coach Hill said we still have a lot of work to do and we haven't arrived yet. We know we still have a lot of work to do to eliminate some of our mistakes and penalties, but once we do we're going to be a great defense."
With field cornerback Brandon Bradley being held out of full-contact work due to a sprained ankle, Nicholson received an opportunity and made the most of it while covering O'Neill Chambers.
"I just made a good break on the ball and it just comes with practicing," said Nicholson of his interception. "In the film room, I'm watching a lot of film on my footwork and making sure I get my footwork down. I'm doing a lot of practicing on my own and today it was just instinct. I just broke on the ball and the ball was right there."
Breaking on a ball thrown to Chambers and intercepting it is not an easy thing to do. Nicholson admits that working against Chambers has been a great help in developing his coverage skills.
"Going against O'Neill has definitely been one of the big reasons why I've improved so much from last year," Nicholson said. "He played last year and knows a lot of what the defensive backs are doing, so he gives me a lot of pointers. Anytime we get the chance to go up against each other we talk about how it was in the locker room. Aside from Coach Hill, he's given me the best advice I've had. As a player he's given me a lot of advice and it's really paid off for me."
In the audio interview below, middle linebacker Terrence Hooks talks about Friday's defensive performance and how the demeanor of the team has changed from last year.