De­fense re­bounds in big way

Af­ter rough show­ing vs. Tu­lane, Mids dom­i­nate

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGES - By Bill Wag­ner

Navy de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brian New­berry spent con­sid­er­able time last week watch­ing the Tu­lane tape to fig­ure out what went wrong for his unit in that game.

Be­sides the ob­vi­ous fac­tor of spend­ing too much time out on the field dur­ing the se­cond half, there were fun­da­men­tal break­downs such as blown as­sign­ments and tech­nique mis­takes such as missed tack­les.

Tu­lane piled up 38 points and 477 to­tal yards in a last-se­cond loss at Navy-Marine Corps Memo­rial Sta­dium. It was the first sig­nif­i­cant set­back this sea­son for the Navy de­fense, which has been vastly im­proved in all de­part­ments.

New­berry and the rest of the de­fen­sive staff had an aw­ful lot to cor­rect dur­ing a short week lead­ing into Fri­day night’s con­test at Con­necti­cut.

What­ever was done dur­ing prac­tice and in­side the meet­ings rooms cer­tainly worked as the Navy de­fend­ers re­sponded with a dom­i­nant ef­fort dur­ing a 56-10 rout of UConn on Rentschler Field.

Rover Kevin Bren­nan led the way with a ca­reer-high 12 tack­les, while the Mid­ship­men forced three turnovers in lim­it­ing the Huskies to 313 yards of to­tal of­fense. De­fen­sive end Jack­son Perkins along with safety Che­len Garnes recorded in­ter­cep­tions, while out­side line­backer Ja­cob Springer con­trib­uted a sack and forced fum­ble.

“We were much bet­ter than last week, that’s for sure,” New­berry said af­ter emerg­ing from the vis­it­ing locker room at Pratt & Whit­ney Sta­dium. “It was good to see the de­fense take some own­er­ship of what hap­pened against Tu­lane and make a com­mit­ted ef­fort to get bet­ter.”

There was a very brief con­tin­u­a­tion of the pre­vi­ous game’s strug­gles when a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the sec­ondary al­lowed out­side re­ceiver Cameron Hairston to get wide-open be­hind the en­tire de­fense for a 53-yard com­ple­tion from quar­ter­back Jack Zer­gi­o­tis. That set up Con­necti­cut’s lone touch­down of the game off a 10-yard scor­ing strike from Zer­gi­o­tis to slot re­ceiver Art Thomp­kins.

“We got off to a rough start. Early in the game, we had a bust on the back end — a blown cov­er­age — and gave up a big play. I thought we bounced back af­ter that,” New­berry said.

There was re­ally only one other anx­ious mo­ment for the Navy de­fense, which com­mit­ted a pair of costly penal­ties that al­lowed Con­necti­cut to reach the red zone. The Mid­ship­men had come up with a stop on third-and-11 af­ter Springer and de­fen­sive tackle J’ar­ius War­ren com­bined to throw Thomp­kins for a 3-yard loss.

How­ever, in­side line­backer Diego Fagot made a dumb de­ci­sion by tak­ing a swing at an of­fen­sive line­man in re­tal­i­a­tion for get­ting roughed up af­ter the whis­tle. Fagot drew a 15-yard unsportsma­nlike con­duct penalty that gave the Huskies an au­to­matic first down.

“Diego is a great player and he knows bet­ter than that. We were off the field and had to go back on be­cause of that penalty,” New­berry said. “That’s un­char­ac­ter­is­tic and not who we are. Diego knows that, he re­al­ized it right when it hap­pened. Ob­vi­ously, we can’t tol­er­ate that.”

A pass in­ter­fer­ence call on cor­ner­back Cameron Kin­ley gave the Huskies first-and­goal at the 2-yard line. That is when the Mid­ship­men bowed their necks and made a huge goal-line stand. Springer chased down Zer­gi­o­tis from be­hind for the sack and forced fum­ble, which was re­cov­ered by in­side line­backer Tyler Pis­to­rio.

Con­necti­cut was on the verge of scor­ing a touch­down that would have cut the deficit to 28-17 at half­time, but in­stead came away with noth­ing.

“We’ve been put in those sit­u­a­tions quite a bit this sea­son and our guys have done a good job when­ever they’ve been backed up like that,” New­berry said. “We seem to find a way to get our­selves out of the bad stuff that we get our­selves into.”

Con­necti­cut fin­ished a woe­ful 1-for-3 on red zone scor­ing chances in the con­test. The Huskies were 4-for-16 on third and fourth down con­ver­sions, a statis­tic that is mu­sic to the ears of New­berry.

“We got our­selves out of some bad sit­u­a­tions. I thought we were good on third down tonight and got off the field,” the first-year co­or­di­na­tor said. “We forced some turnovers and had a big stop in the red zone, which was good to see.”

Back in the game

Perkins re­turned to the lineup af­ter miss­ing three games with a leg in­jury and cer­tainly made his pres­ence felt. The 6-foot-6, 257-pound ju­nior notched six tack­les, in­clud­ing one for loss, to go along with the in­ter­cep­tion and a pass breakup.

“It’s great hav­ing Jack­son back. I knew we missed him, but you don’t re­al­ize just how much un­til you see him back out there mak­ing plays. He’s one of our most re­li­able guys,” New­berry said. “Hav­ing Jack­son back al­lows us to move J’ar­ius War­ren to the three tech­nique, which gives us a much more ath­letic de­fen­sive line.”

On con­sec­u­tive plays in the se­cond quar­ter, Perkins dropped into cov­er­age to pick up the run­ning back on a short pat­tern. He per­formed the as­sign­ment with gusto, bat­ting down the first pass at­tempt then pick­ing off the se­cond.

“So the first time I was cov­er­ing the back and I didn’t think the quar­ter­back would throw it be­cause I was right there. I was kind of sur­prised by it,” Perkins said. “The se­cond one, for some rea­son I had a feel­ing he was go­ing to throw it again be­cause I don’t think they thought I was go­ing to drop. The down and dis­tance was per­fect for a screen so when he threw it, I was ready.”

Perkins played some tight end at Bar­ring­ton High in the Illi­nois town of the same name and was also a stand­out bas­ket­ball player.

While Perkins may have soft hands, he does need to work on run­ning with the foot­ball.

“Af­ter the catch, when I was run­ning, I have no idea what hap­pened. I was look­ing for a de­fen­sive back to toss it off to so they could run for a touch­down,” Perkins said af­ter­ward. “Ob­vi­ously, I’m not too fast with a taped-up knee.”

New­berry has no qualms about hav­ing a tall, long-armed de­fen­sive end han­dle pass cov­er­age re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“In dime sit­u­a­tions I think we can match up Jack­son with a back. It’s not like we’re ask­ing him to run down the mid­dle of the field. He’s just pick­ing up a guy that’s slip­ping out of the back­field for a screen or dump pass,” New­berry said.

Bren­nan shines

New­berry heaped high praise on Bren­nan, who put forth a stel­lar per­for­mance while play­ing in front of a large con­tin­gent of fans. Dave and Ann Bren­nan are both Con­necti­cut grad­u­ates and or­ga­nized a large con­tin­gent of fam­ily and friends to at­tend the game in East Hart­ford.

pub­lished a fea­ture ar­ti­cle about free safety Evan Focht­man in last Fri­day’s edi­tion. New­berry said the quotes he pro­vided about the Arch­bishop Spald­ing prod­uct could be du­pli­cated for Bren­nan.

“We talked about Evan last week. I could say all the same things about Kevin. He might be our smartest player on the field. He plays ex­tremely hard and is tough as nails,” New­berry said. “I think No. 10 and No. 11 are a lot alike, and they’re both brand new to those po­si­tions. They’re play­ing free safety and rover for the first time this year and get­ting bet­ter ev­ery week.

The Cap­i­tal

KASSI JACK­SON/THE HART­FORD COURANT

UConn’s Cameron Ross (9) is tack­led by Navy’s Evan Focht­man (11) as the Huskies take on the Mid­ship­men at Rentschler Field on Nov. 1 in East Hart­ford.

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