Dog Defense Making Mid-Season Fixes

What is the practice emphasis on defense this week? Coach Geoff Collins: "The big thing is we're trying to work on situational football, just emphasizing on third downs and on red zones. Two-minute drills, just a big emphasis on that. And then also developing some of the young players, making sure they're ready so when their time comes in the spring they've gotten some good reps, too."

Have the linebackers lived up to the preseason expectations so far? "I think this past game Benardrick McKinney and Deontae Skinner played as well of a game at a linebacker position as I've seen in a while. They were flying around, highly productive, getting pressures on the quarterback, flying around making plays. We came out of halftime I told both of them you have to take over this game for us to win it and I thought they did. I think Benardrick had four or five tackles on the last two drives and they were all over the field. So I think they've done some good things, and the second half of the season hopefully they'll just keep getting better."

When you're asking them to take over a game what are you looking for? "The big thing is just energy, play-making, getting everybody lined up. The biggest thing is we want to make sure that they make everybody around them better and making plays on their own, too. You know, they're very competitive, they love each other but they're very competitive with each other. And they kind of keep track of stats. So if one of them has a ten-tackle game the other one is trying to make sure he stays up there too. If one gets a pressure on the quarterback, the other one wants to make sure he's involved with that, too. So they're a fun group to coach, a couple of great kids. Matt Wells, Beniquez (Brown), Richie (Brown), and Zach (Jackson), are awesome."

Ferlando Bohanna was making a move in preseason and had those concussions? "Bo's been a great player his whole career. He's had a big role on special teams, and the biggest thing that people don't notice is how much energy, enthusiasm…he loves playing football and losing that for the first six games kind of hurt a little bit. Because I love the kid, just love to see him out there playing football."

In the first six games has anything about the defense surprised you or concerned you? "The big thing is just what we talked about earlier, situational football. You know, understanding when it's a third-down situation. In the LSU game we get them 3rd-and-12, 3rd-and-19, 3rd-and-15; and can't get off the field. So that kind of deal."

"Then the end of halves, the end of games. You know, somehow we end up finding a way to let people in the end zone or let people kick field goals. Just making sure the guys understand when we're put in different situations we've got to respond. Bowling Green had us 1st-and-10 on the ten the other night, we responded really well. But then other times we let them drive down there and don't understand that we're in the red zone, we've got to stop. So just understand the situations that we're in and getting better at those situations."

You didn't want to be in that fourth-quarter situation but was that something you wanted to see from the young guys like Tolando Cleveland and Will Redmond who made a big play? "A big play. Well the big thing, it shouldn't have gotten to that. Because Benardrick got a sack with three minutes left that got a facemask! And somehow we just kind of kept finding ways to shoot ourselves in the foot. But the nice thing is we found a way to respond and we found a way to get a stop. And the Tolando Clevelands of the world, people don't talk about this but he recovered the fumble to win the game for us! So him being in those kind of situations at such a young age has been vital for him."

With all the injuries and shuffles we haven't seen the real defense together this season, and neither have opponents? "Yeah, since play-seven of the Oklahoma State game when our starting strong safety Jay Hughes goes down; and then play-nine Jamerson Love goes down. But the guys have done a good job of stepping up, whoever is in there. You know, Preston Smith had a huge game against LSU, didn't play this past week. So the guys step up, whoever's time it is to make a play comes in to make a play. Whoever's time it is to come in and get a lot of reps, they do that. so we've got a close group and somebody goes down they respond and get in there and make plays."

How good is it seeing guys like Richie and Beniquez making plays on the kicking teams? "One of the things I'm proud of is punt team is a very valuable team here. A lot of prestige and a lot of pride. And there's four of the linebackers right on the front line of punt team. The kickoff team, the kickoff return team, those guys are stepping up and making plays and being really involved. And that's the big thing Coach Mullen stresses, if you can't play on special teams then you're not going to play on offense and defense. The young guys are getting a chance to do that for us."

Have you looked at Kentucky at all yet? "Oh yeah. I mean it's another great offense, I know y'all probably get tired for me saying it. But it's another great offense we've got to get ready for."

How do linebackers make everyone around him better? "The biggest thing is we're the quarterback of the defense. We have to get everybody lined up, get everybody the call, everybody the checks. One of the sequences in the Bowling Green game, it didn't happen; there were three plays in a row that the d-line didn't get the call or didn't get the check; a 14-yard gain, a 18-yard gain, 20-yard gain.'

"So that's been a good thing for the young guys, to understand how vital that communication is. Because you can't live in your own little bubble, you've got to make sure that everybody is on the same page so that the defense functions. And then I know you guys have seen Benardrick McKinney, he was the ‘Swag Leader' this week, he won the ‘can of swag' because he had the most juice the whole game. Pre-game he was hyped, in the locker room he was hyped, and he carried that throughout the game. So his energy and enthusiasm rubs off on everybody else and they start playing better."

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