Defensive success breeds confident bunch
The UH defense was so effective for its turnovers last season that defensive coordinator David Gibbs said that contrary to the game results, the turnovers may have been a bit blinding.
The aspect of confidence — something Gibbs said he places near the top of what makes for a proficient defender — is never far from his mind.
“Any time you have success, it breeds confidence,” Gibbs said. “The defenses around here have struggled throughout the years. Creating all those turnovers hid a lot of bad things that we didn’t do very well, but because everyone pays attention to the turnovers, there’s a lot of stuff that’s swept under the rug.”
Key starters return
Gibbs’ defense posted 43 takeaways, enough for an almost worst-to-first reversal of defensive statistic from two seasons past, set the bar fairly high.
“With Trevon Stewart getting 10 of them and Adrian McDonald intercepting six passes, those guys are back, so hopefully we can continue to get turnovers,” Gibbs said. “Can you get 43 again? Probably not, but at the same time, we’ll work on it every day and continue to get better, but again we’re fundamentally sound.”
“We do things the right way around here. As long as you keep practicing hard and teaching fundamentals, the kids will continue to get better. They will continue to improve. As far as the football skill, they will continue to get better as we continue through this process.”
While plying the standard coaching trick of tempering expectations, Gibbs said he was quick to praise the student-athletes themselves for their defensive prowess.
“The good news is all those guys that created the turnovers are back, and a lot of the turnovers are created by the players themselves,” Gibbs said. “There are no fancy drills, there are not master plays. We had 100 coaches come through here asking how did you get so many turnovers. The truth is it’s the players.”
Head coach Tony Levine has previously stated the perks of having so many returning players.
“We’ve got a number of seniors, juniors and even sophomores that have been in our program five, four, three and two years and have played a tremendous amount of football around here in some big games,” Levine said. “They’re focused.”
UH’s seasons of the Veer and the Run n’ Shoot highlight a weaker defense, but the raising of a quality defense at a generally offensive school is not something lost under Gibbs.
“A lot of it is just confidence. The guys started believing. They’ve been beat down for a long time. These offensive guys are really smart, and there are certain plays they run where, if you’re in certain defense, you can’t stop them,” Gibbs said, pointing out the rapid-fire nature of many offenses.
“What happens is if you go to stop every play, you’re not going to be sound on defense,” Gibbs said. “You’re going allow big plays, and that creates lots of points.”
Gibbs said it’s all in the foundation of the defense when it comes to success.
“We try to be sound,” Gibbs said. “They’re going to move the football; you know that, but we can’t let them score touchdowns, and we have to continue to get turnovers.”
Gibbs said he plans to build off last year’s strong points and focus on the little things.
“The overall yardage number was high per game, but per play we were pretty dang good, which is good around here,” Gibbs said. “If we can do that again, I’ll be as happy as I can be.”
Junior defensive back Trevon Stewart summed up the defensive practice routine simply.
“We work Monday through Friday on stripping the ball out,” Stewart said.
As one of the more visible defenders on the field, senior linebacker Derrick Mathews, responsible for 116 tackles combined between solos and assists, shunned any sort of rowdy leader mentality.
“I really don’t think I have to, but if I do, I talk to people individually,” Mathews said.
Work ethic is key
Coming off an 8-5 season with stout defensive numbers, Gibbs hasn’t lost sight of the work ethic that got them this far.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Gibbs said. “But the kids believe in the system, and they believe in the calls coming from the sidelines. Obviously, we’re excited in the second year, but at the same time, you have to go out there and do it every week.”