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Third downs key in match-up with Ball State

Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 23:09


For the USF football team (2-1) to come out of Muncie, Indiana with a victory over the 14th-ranked rushing offense in the nation, the USF defense will need to show its ability to stop the opponent from converting  on third down — something lacking in the 23-13 loss to
Rutgers last Thursday.

The Bulls will stampede the field of Scheumann Stadium at 4:30 p.m on Saturday with a chance to move to 3-1 before their much-hyped match up with the Florida State Seminoles. The team will look to improve its 45 percent third down defensive efficiency.

“You feel like first and second down, you force a loss of one, loss of two, then you’re thinking ‘big play here, defense’ and then they convert and it’s almost draining,” coach Skip Holtz said. “You’re like ‘Aw, golly, we let them out.’ And then you do it again, one of their scoring drives they converted three third and longs, and it has a bit of a psychological take on you.”

After allowing the Scarlet Knights to convert eight times on third down one week after allowing the Nevada Wolf Pack to gain 549 total yards, the Bulls hope to reverse the trend when they face the Ball State Cardinals, a team which has averaged 35 points per game. 

Redshirt junior safety JaQuez Jenkins said a simple change will allow the Bulls to be more prepared when facing a third and long on defense.

“Noticing where the (first down markers) are will be key,” he said. “I think when we’re out there and everything is moving around a lot, we just don’t know what the down and distance is. We were getting a little lackadaisical as far as knowing where the sticks are, so it’s not something physically that we’re doing during the play that we have to change, it’s before the play.”

Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said the team’s mindset on those downs will need to change.

“We have to tighten up on both man and zone coverages,” he said. “We need to get some more heat on the quarterback, try to turn the ball over, still attack the ball like you do on first and second down and develop that kind of habit up front, and it should help us.”

Though the Bulls were able to recover two fumbles in their comeback win against Nevada, the team’s defense has yet to record an interception. 

Jenkins was the last Bull to intercept a pass, when he stepped in front of a Geno Smith pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown, with 9:49 remaining in the final game of the 2011 season against West Virginia.

With Cardinals’ quarterback Keith Wenning — who has thrown two interceptions to three touchdowns in 2012 — on the horizon, the Bulls have a golden opportunity to break their slump. 

Jenkins said he is anxious to get the first interception of the season.

“It’s (bothering) me that I haven’t been able to get one,” he said. “We have to get up and attack the ball, that’s what zone coverage is for. It gives us an advantage of being able to get a good break on the ball, so we need to read the quarterback better and make the play.”

Though generating turnovers will be a focus for the defense, its ability to get off the field in a more traditional sense will define its performance against Ball State. 

“It goes back to everybody doing their job,” redshirt senior linebacker Michael Lanaris said. “It’s not one specific person, or position or player. Front four has to get pressure, the linebackers have to get in their zones and defensive backs getting in the lanes and their hands on receivers.”

Holtz said careful attention will be given to all factors before the game.

“We’ve got to sit down and look at what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with,” Holtz said. “Is it too confusing, or are we not paying attention to the details or do we need to find somebody else to come in and play that zone coverage? So it’s a lot of things we need to look at before we make changes.”

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