MEC football: UC defense back on track
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A season-opening trip to Raleigh, N.C. turned sour quickly for the University of Charleston football team, which was handed a humbling 44-14 defeat to Shaw to begin the campaign.
One year after holding the Bears to 97 yards - the fifth time the Golden Eagles defense had done that since Coach Pat Kirkland took over in 2011 - UC gave up three touchdowns in the second quarter and couldn't get untracked to begin this season 0-1.
Six weeks later and Kirkland's defense is back on the pace that saw it hold seven opponents to 100 or fewer rushing yards last season. Through seven games this year, UC has held three opponents to fewer than 100 yards on the ground - all Mountain East Conference foes.
Junior Justin Avery said it's about being consistent.
"Early on we were still living in the past, off of last year's success, but lately we've been committing to what we do well," said the 6-foot, 235-pound linebacker.
The Golden Eagles (4-3, 4-1 MEC) lost their first five games under Kirkland in 2011, but reeled off five victories in their last five games. Since the 0-5 beginning, Kirkland's record is 18-6.
It's no coincidence that UC held 10 opponents in those wins to fewer than 100 yards.
"They realize they're a good defense and that's where our experience is and they have to carry this football team," Kirkland said. "I expect the defense to show up every week and play at a high level and I think they are."
Among the top performances in Saturday's 31-9 victory over West Virginia State was 6-5, 255-pound defensive lineman Tucker Schaefer. Schaefer allowed the strength of the UC defense - the linebackers led by Avery and leading tackler Matt Kelly - to flow to the ball and make stops. Schaefer finished with four solos and two assists. He also had two tackles against UVa-Wise.
"The defensive line is playing real well right now," Avery said. "They're getting a lot of pressure. We had a guy who doesn't play as much really step up (against State), Tucker Schaefer. He played really well."
State had 11 tackles for lost yardage against State and 3.5 of those were credited to Schaefer. He also had a pair of sacks.
"The defensive line is playing really well right now, getting a lot of pressure," Avery said.
The Golden Eagles, who have won two consecutive games and four of their last five, have a visit from Concord on Saturday. The Mountain Lions have been similarly stingy, giving up only 13 points per game and 111.4 rushing yards a contest.
Coach Garin Justice's team has also won three of its last four and is fifth in the league in rushing defense. The Golden Eagles are ranked two spots from the bottom at 180 yards given up per game, but gave up a season-high 274 to unbeaten Shepherd, the 11th-ranked team in the American Football Coaches' Association Poll.
"It comes down to doing what we do well," said Avery, who has 41 tackles this year and 96 in 24 career games. "Our coaches do a great job of preparing us as far as knowing what's coming, situation wise, personnel and disguising."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.