The Coyote defense allowed 32.4 points per game and 460.4 yards per game, which ranked eighth and ninth (out of 10) in the Missouri Valley Football Conference last season. The Coyotes defensive coordinator, Travis Johansen, was in his first season leading the USD defense, and the Coyotes anticipate year two will look much better.
“I can tell you they (the defense) have improved,” USD head coach Bob Nielson said. “Watching us in practice here the last three weeks and watching us in practice a year ago is night and day different. Guys have confidence in our scheme. They’re executing at a much higher level and much higher speed.”
Three of the five Coyote captains are on the defense this season, one player being from each level of the defense. The Coyotes return all four starting linebackers, and both starting safeties. Linebacker Jack Cochrone said he never questioned playing this season.
“I know there’s a lot of things going around with different guys making different decision, but for me with this groups, being around the guys and working with them every day,” Cochrane said. “It would be really hard for me to be around my brother every day and not go out and lay it on the line with them each week.”
Nielson also said the linebacker group is the deepest position on the team.
The Coyote defensive line lost two starters in Kameron Cline and Darin Greenfield, but DeValon Whitcomb said the line has benefitted from going up against the Coyote offensive line in preparation for the season, as well as working individually to adjust to changes up front.
“(We have worked on) different ways that we can attack our blocks up front,” Whitcomb said. “Also we’ve been working on keying in on the fundamentals that we’ve been practicing.”
In the secondary, Elijah Reed and Isaiah McDaniel return as starting safeties. Other players in the secondary have experience, but Reed said that as long as the secondary does their job, the defensive front should be able to get after the opposing quarterback.
“As long as we come in and do our job, that should help them out just enough to get to the quarterback,” Reed said. “If we cover the recievers, cover the tight ends, just do our job and lock in on our keys, they should be in position to make plays because of the time that they get to get to the quarterback.”
The Coyote defense also struggled with injuries last season. A healthy group with many returning starters plan on making the next step defensively. A lot of younger guys have more experience due to the injuries.
Nielson also said there will be a lot of true freshman getting extra playing time since the team doesn’t have to worry about redshirt seasons because of the extra eligibility with COVID-19.
“You’re going to see a number of true freshman that are going to be playing football for us,” Nielson said. “…We feel that we have an outstanding 2020 class. We’ve got some guys that are going to be able to impact us. The ability that they had to practice in our system has put them in a much different position than most true freshman classes.”
The Coyote defense starts year two under Johansen Feb. 19 against Western Illinois in the DakotaDome at 6 p.m.