Newcomers help turn around Lumberjack defense
By Brian Gosset
After a 4–7 record in 2011, in which the football team finished fifth in the Big Sky in total defense, Northern Arizona University (NAU) has seen a major improvement on the defensive side so far this 2012 season. The Lumberjacks (8–1, 6–0 Big Sky Conference) are currently second in the BSC in that same category.
When the offense struggles, some would say this puts added pressure on the defense.
“Defense plays 100 percent throughout the whole game, no matter what the score is and whether or not the offense is struggling,” said junior safety Blair Wishom.
No matter the outcome of offensive performances, the defense has come through week in and week out. The Lumberjacks have intercepted the opposition 11 times and are tied for the best mark in the conference. This is a huge step from last place in 2011, when the team had only six.
Defensive coordinator Andy Thompson doesn’t think there’s a huge change, but it is just players stepping up.
“We’re executing plays and playing hard. There’s no magic formula on getting the ball back to our offense. That’s our job and we have new players that are helping out,” Thompson said.
The big statistic this year comes from the defensive backs. The starting group consists of Wishom, junior safety Lucky Dozier, junior cornerback Anders Battle and senior cornerback Devin Willis. The four starters have led NAU with nine of the team’s 11 interceptions.
If you want to have a great passing game, you’re going to have to go through a team’s secondary. The Lumberjacks rank first in pass defense, giving up 204 yards per game. The past year, NAU ranked seventh out of the nine BSC schools, giving up 251 yards per game.
Dozier, who is in his first year starting for the Lumberjacks, has been a pleasant surprise. The 5’10” junior out of Sacramento, Calif. has 40 tackles on the season and is tied for the Big Sky lead with four interceptions. Dozier led the team in its historic win against Montana with eight tackles and two interceptions.
Wishom has done his fair share of defense as well. Also a transfer and in his first season playing for NAU, Wishom has recorded 44 tackles and is one interception behind of Dozier with three of his own. Wishom has started every game since the Lumberjacks’ loss to Arizona State in week one.
On Nov. 3, the Lumberjacks had to face Idaho State. Despite the Bengals being last in the conference, they ranked first in passing yards per game with nearly 360.
“Biggest thing during the week was coverage, to stay disciplined, keep an eye on our man and keep our eyes on the quarterback during zone coverage,” Dozier said about going into the game.
NAU’s defense locked down Idaho State during the game. They gave up 287 passing yards, 39 rushing yards, intercepted the ball once, scored a safety, returned a blocked punt for a score and held the Bengals to only 2-for-16 on 3rd-down-conversions. The safety and touchdown return resulted in the game’s first nine points, the second straight week in which the defense has accomplished this feat.
Head Coach Jerome Souers was especially pleased about the defense’s performance.
“I was excited about our defense; I think our defense was steady for all four quarters,” Souers said.