Veterans, Experience Helping Football Defense Play Fast, Effectively
A bunch of veterans, many of whom played 15 games a year ago in UNH’s extended run to the semifinals of the FCS tournament, has helped the Wildcat defense get off to a fast start in camp this fall.
“One thing is we have older guys who really understand the defense and I think we’ve done a real good job of talking and getting every on the same page when we have to make checks in our plays,” said defensive coordinator John Lyons. “That’s encouraging. The other part of it is we just haven’t given up big plays.”
The defense and the experience start up front with senior Matt Kaplan and juniors Jullian Turner and Rashid Armand rotating through the defensive tackle spots. Cody Muller and Brian Ciccone are senior defensive ends. All five players appeared in each of the 15 games last year.
Behind them, senior Shane McNeely and junior Akil Anderson at linebacker played in all 15 games as well and led the team in tackles. Anderson had 124 and McNeely 120.
The Wildcats keep trying to pick up the defensive tempo, too.
“We’ve had good intensity and good communication and that’s been a big part of our emphasis and they’re doing a good job with it,” Lyons said. “We want them to play fast and not have to think a lot.”
The overall goal is to continue to improve a defense that took a big step forward last year.
After giving up just over 30 points a game during the 2012 season, the Wildcats chopped a touchdown off that total and allowed 23 points a game last season.
The guys on the offensive side of the ball have been impressed by the speed of the defense and it was especially evident in a scrimmage on Tuesday.
That was all well and good, said Muller, a captain along with offensive tackle Rob Bowman.
But it was nothing to dwell on.
“We look at the film, correct what we can and keep building and move on to the next day,” Muller said. “We’ve got to move on. Camp’s going quickly.”
The final scrimmage of camp, the Blue-White fall Game, is next Thursday and the Wildcats leave for their opener at Toledo two weeks from today. That first game is Saturday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.
The home opener is two weeks after that, on Sept. 13, against Lehigh at 3:30 p.m.
Against Toledo, some of the Wildcat seniors are going back to the scene of their first collegiate game.
UNH opened the 2011 season with a 58-22 loss at Toledo, which was the debut game for running back Nico Steriti, wide receiver Jimmy Giansante and others.
The Lehigh game is a rematch from last season when the Wildcats lost in Bethlehem, 34-27.
UNH dropped to 1-2 on the season with the Lehigh loss and fell again at Towson the next week.
The Wildcats rallied from there to win three straight games and six of seven to finish the regular season with a 7-4 record and they qualified for the FCS tournament for the 10th consecutive season, a mark that leads the nation.
In the playoffs, they beat Lafayette at home and Maine and Southeastern Louisiana on the road before falling at North Dakota State in the semis. The Bison went on to beat Towson for their third straight national championship.