The No. 1-ranked defense in the Mid-American Conference carries the football team.
Two weekends ago, after a 27-13 win against Army, football coach Al Golden said he hoped his son, A.J., “grows up to be like Jaiquawn Jarrett or [Dominique] Harris.”
“They’re incredibly bright and unselfish, tough kids,” Golden said. “I can’t say enough about them. We think we have very good safeties, and as good as they are, they’re even better people off the field. We’re blessed.”
The Owls’ defense is blessed on the field as well. Jarrett, a junior, leads the team with two interceptions, 44 total tackles (30 solo) and two fumble recoveries after topping the charts with 88 total tackles (53 solo) last season. He earned Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Owls’ 24-19 win against Ball State back on Oct. 10.
“I try to help the younger players [like sophomore cornerback Kevin Kroboth and junior Marquise Liverpool, who made the switch to defense this year] and bring them along because I’ve been around,” Jarrett said after the Nov. 17 game against Army. “As a defense, we just try to be as good as our weakest link. Our object is to go out and play defense no matter what happens and to come together as one. We’ve worked on just becoming a band of brothers, a brotherhood, and fighting for each other.”
The Owls rank 15th in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing defense and 16th in turnover margin. The defense has intercepted 10 passes and forced 12 fumbles, recovering eight of them. In the MAC, the Owls rank No. 1 in total defense and rushing defense and No. 3 in turnover margin and scoring defense. They allowed just 48 yards rushing on 23 attempts in last Saturday’s 40-24 win against Toledo, while also forcing three fumbles, one of which they recovered, and intercepting two passes.
“I think our defense is strong right now because they work well together. They have a good plan. They believe in each other. They’re coached well,” Golden said after the Army game. “We’re tackling well. We have some guys who can rush the passer. We play option teams fairly well. We put them in a couple bad situations, but I think the defense is marvelous, to be quite honest. I thought they did a tremendous job and made some really big plays. The defense comes in, and they get the ball back for us.”
So far this season, the most points the defense has allowed came in a 31-6 loss in the second game of the season to then-No. 5 Penn State.
“I just think we’re just playing more with an attitude in how we prepare for our games and how we go about learning about our opponent since then,” said Harris, who is a senior. “We fought hard all week for this. We’re taught to ‘flip the switch.’ That’s our motto. No matter what happens, we’re taught to put our heads down and go about our business.”
Harris also credited the defensive line’s play this season for the success on that side of the ball.
And it is one of the younger linemen, sophomore left end Adrian Robinson Jr., who has made the most impact up front. Robinson’s eight sacks rank first in the MAC and place him in a tie for eighth in the FBS.
“Our defense [and Adrian] play with a lot of poise and execution,” senior middle linebacker Alex Joseph said after the Army game. “Now, we’re used to the tactics of these types of teams, option teams.”
The Owls’ defense hopes to repeat its success versus Army against another option team, Navy, this Saturday. The Midshipmen defeated the Owls, 33-27, last year.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.