LAFAYETTE — It’s not so much about encountering adversity, but how you deal with it, says University of Louisiana at Lafayette defensive coordinator Greg Stewart.
Colliding with defensive difficulties and orchestrating makeovers seemed to be a season-long theme for Stewart’s initially inexperienced ULL defense.
Midway through the season, ULL suddenly scrapped its 3-4 defense and introduced another, featuring four down linemen.
Linebacker was a constant concern because of injuries, player dismissals and position changes.
Then in the secondary, frequent inconsistencies forced Stewart into swapping personnel on nearly a weekly basis.
The defense ULL presents to R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl opponent East Carolina on Dec.22 won’t resemble the one that took the field Sept.1 in the season opener against Lamar.
That doesn’t surprise Stewart, a college coaching veteran, who has presided over the restructuring of a defense matched against an ECU offense ranked high in scoring efficiency.
“All the adversity this defense had to go through and how they players handled it says a lot about them. They just did a good job of pulling together,” said Stewart.
After giving up a combined 80 points and more than a 1,000 total offensive yards in losses to North Texas and Arkansas State, ULL unveiled a new defensive look that took senior outside linebacker Emeka Onyenekwu and made him a down lineman in a 4-3.
Linebacker Justin Anderson was moved back inside as was sophomore Trae Johnson, after starter Qyendarius Griffin was dismissed for the remainder of the season, Tyren Alexander was injured for several games with a knee problem and Jake Molbert ended the year with a torn knee ligament.
On the back end, Stewart pulled cornerback Trevence Patt from a backup position and inserted him at strong safety, where the sophomore recorded 22 tackles in the final third of the year.
Ask Stewart for the most significant change and he says it’s implementing the 4-3, featuring a quick Onyenekwu at defensive end.
“The effect of the move (to the 4-3) was the most evident. That defensive front we have was the strong point of our defense. Therefore to get that base out there, we went to the 4-3,” said Stewart.
For Onyenekwu, a senior from Baton Rouge, it‘s about a better percentage for matchups.
“The 4-3 opens it up across the board for more one on one’s on the d-line. Instead of one guy going one-on-one in the 3-4, you have three with the 4-3. One of us is going to win that one-on-one battle,” said Onyenekwu.
Onyenekwu’s regular season featured 61/2 sacks and 121/2 tackles for 49 yards in losses.
Anderson said he has one less worry about what’s occurring in front of him.
“The four down linemen gives me more opportunities and one less drop zone at linebacker. For Emeka, he has more chances to have a one-on-one and then do what he does best and that’s to go get the quarterback,” Anderson said.
Said ULL head coach Mark Hudspeth, “Justin is one of those instinctive players with great football sense. He makes a lot of plays (a team leading 101 tackles) and is always in the right position.”