Improved defense key to success

No matter how many times people say “defense wins championships,” fans rave about how the offense is looking for a team.

It’s easy to get caught up in all of the glamour and large numbers involved with high-powered offenses like Head Coach Chris Hatcher’s famed scheme the “Hatch Attack,” which, when firing on all cylinders, runs with perfect efficiency and generally produces big plays in the passing game.

Watching high-flying aerial attacks and flashy running games does seem more fun, as opposed to hard-nosed defenses deflecting passes, forcing fumbles and stuffing quarterbacks and running backs behind the line of scrimmage.

However, for all the impressive plays from Hatcher and his spread offense, the Racer defense has steadily improved with each passing year and the coaching staff is taking notice.

“We’ve got a lot more speed on defense and a lot more depth than we’ve had in the past, and that equates to being a better tackling defense,” Hatcher said. “All and all, this will be the best defensive unit we’ve put on the field in three years.”

Along with returning eight defensive starters from the 2011 squad, the Racers procured some depth via transfers, including sophomore cornerback Cadarious Sanders and junior linebacker/defensive back Darrell Smith, during the offseason. Hatcher said he was pleased with their ability to absorb the playbook and move forward with practice.

While the new transfers will certainly help solidify depth, it is the return of players such as junior linebacker Qua Huzzie, senior defensive end Kevin Robinson, junior rover Brandon Wicks and junior cornerback Darrian Skinner who really turn a solid defense into a top-notch defense.

Defensive coordinator Ashley Anders said as much, stressing how important it was to have players who not only knew the defensive game plan, but knew what it took to maintain focus and win tough collegiate games.

“It’s guys that just have more playing experience as compared to the previous two years, guys like Qua Huzzie who took almost every snap last year and brings in game experience along with leadership qualities,” Anders said. “You look at the back end with Darrian Skinner and Brandon Wicks who is going to be a three-year starter, and they bring something that you can’t teach.”

Both Huzzie and Robinson were selected as Preseason All-OVC defensive players, proving themselves last season as fierce, unstoppable defenders who can make the big play at any moment.

Huzzie finished last season with 80 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, three sacks, four pass deflections, one quarterback pressure, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, while Robinson led the OVC last season with seven sacks and finished the season with two fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

One of the biggest issues going into the season, however, is the loss of senior linebacker Sam Small to a practice-related knee injury. Small led the Racers with 115 tackles last season and was poised to match those numbers this year.

He is listed as day-to-day and is expected to be a vocal leader along the sideline until he can return to the field.

Story by Edward Marlowe, Staff writer