North Texas Daily

North Texas defense takes major steps forward this year

North Texas defense takes major steps forward this year

North Texas defense takes major steps forward this year
October 30
22:02 2018

Heading into the 2018 season, North Texas carried hype and momentum due to its high-powered offense that broke several records during its 9-5 season.

One heavily criticized area was the team’s defense, which gave up a total of 490 points last year. The defense allowed an average of 35.0 points last season, which ranked No. 111 out of 130 teams in FBS. With 16 total turnovers on the season, North Texas only tallied eight interceptions in 14 games.

Defensive coordinator Troy Reffett — who was initially hired as the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach in 2016 — was promoted to full-time defensive coordinator last season and endured growing pains with his new unit. Reffett went into the offseason wanting his group to play smarter by knowing exactly where to line up based on down, distance and field positioning, as well as communicating and working as a unit.

“There were a lot of times last year where we were beat before the play started because we didn’t play the proper technique or execute the proper assignment,” Reffett said. “A big emphasis was just understanding football and the defensive calls while becoming more and more comfortable in the scheme to where they’re not thinking about their assignments as much as just going out and running them and being able to react as the play’s developing.”

While the offense received a lot of attention, senior defensive lineman Ulaiasi Tauaalo said he believes the defense was motivated to play to their full strength, not just motivated by the attention paid to the offense.

“[The attention helped] in the right way because we loved that the offense is getting credit, and they should get credit for what they do, but then it goes vice-versa,” Tauaalo said. “We didn’t play to our standards last year so that’s what really motivated us.”

Through eight weeks, North Texas has allowed an average of 19 points per game — which is No. 32 nationally and No. 2 in Conference USA.

The Mean Green have forced a total of 16 turnovers through six games — 13 of which are interceptions — which is tied for fifth in the nation.

The team caught six interceptions during its week three road victory against Arkansas, just one shy of the program record set in 1971.

Defensive backs Nate Brooks, Khairi Muhammad and Kemon Hall all have two or more interceptions for the season. Brooks is tied for No. 2 in the nation at four. Hall has returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns.

Sophomore safety Tyreke Davis has recently emerged out of the defensive backfield for North Texas and made his first interception this season against the University of Texas – El Paso Miners.

“I feel like we’ve grown a lot, and that just comes with trusting one another,” Davis said. “Secondary-wise, [they] just do their job and trust in the schematics and the game-plan we got going each and every week,” Davis said.

A major trend following college football defenses is the “turnover chain.” When a player causes a turnover, whether a fumble or interception, they don the item during their team’s offensive series. But Reffett doesn’t like to single out one player for causing turnovers because he thinks of every turnover as a team effort, ranging from the trenches all the way to the defensive backfield.

“I don’t like one player being decorated or recognized for a turnover because in a lot of situations, there [are] multiple people involved in a turnover,” Reffett said. “Now if coach Littrell comes up and says he wants us to put on a turnover tutu or something, then we’ll do it. But our philosophy is that turnovers are defense based and unit based, so I don’t want one player just getting recognized for the actions  somebody else may have caused.”

Throughout the season, takeaways have played a major factor when it comes to winning games for the Mean Green. In North Texas’ first loss of the season against Louisiana Tech, the Bulldogs defense recorded zero turnovers, while the Mean Green gave up two.

In its second loss against Alabama-Birmingham, North Texas recorded one turnover — a fumble recovery in the beginning of the third quarter.

When it comes to winning football games, redshirt senior linebacker E.J. Ejiya said every team wants to win the turnover battle.

“Every team wants takeaways,” Ejiya said. “That’s our main key: get at least two to three turnovers every single game because if you think about it, two to three turnovers per game is almost leading the nation. We try to depend on at least two to three whether it’s an interception or fumble recovery. We really harp on those statistics because once we get the offense the ball, it goes uphill from there.”

With a defense that is able to come up with stops and an offense that’s able to score 40 points a game, North Texas looks to have a balanced attack throughout the rest of their conference schedule this year.

Featured Image: North Texas senior Nate Brooks celebrates after an interception in a game against the University of Arkansas on Sept. 15 at Arkansas. Sara Carpenter

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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