Phoenix football must improve on defense before next season

The Phoenix defense swarms rising junior running back Matt Eastman (40) during the Spring Game April 28. Photo by Sara Hudak, staff photographer.
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There was a rather glaring weakness of the Elon University football team last season, the defense. The unit was easily the least effective on the Phoenix, and that will have to change if Elon hopes to improve on last season’s disappointing 5-6 finish.

One could argue that the defense cost the team one or two wins, but, to be fair, they were occasionally set up deep in their own territory following a Thomas Wilson interception or a lost fumble.

Having said that, the defense could certainly use improvement going into next year. There’s no doubt that their inability to stop the opposing team’s offense ultimately cost the Phoenix the game. A perfect example is last year’s game against nationally ranked Appalachian State on November 19, Elon’s home finale.

Leading by three touchdowns at halftime, the Phoenix defense was unable to stop the prolific Appalachian State offense in the second half, resulting in a 21-3 run by the Mountaineers that ultimately led to their 28-24 win.

I also want to point out that the Mountaineers comeback was not just the result of the Phoenix defense’s inability to get a second half stop. The Mountaineers were a top ten team, with a prolific offense capable of scoring points in bunches. When the App State offense found their groove, few FCS defenses could stop their onslaught of quick playmakers on the outside.

Still, the Elon defense can’t blow multiple touchdown leads like in the game against App State. They can’t allow 7 opponents to score more than 30 points in a game like they did last year. That won’t work. They can’t expect quarterback Thomas Wilson and the offense to outscore their opponents in every game.

The defense must pull its own weight in order for the Phoenix to improve next season. The offense, dangerous as it can be, can’t continue to carry the team going forward.

I’ve seen flashes of defensive brilliance from the Phoenix. I saw them yield just 15 in the game against The Citadel. I saw them completely dominate Appalachian State in the first half, allowing just 3 points to the dynamic Mountaineer offense.

I’ve just not seen it enough. I’ve seen too many games in which the opposing team’s offense marches down the field and scores drive after drive. Thomas Wilson and Aaron Mellette form a dangerous tandem, but they can’t always escape from the hole their defense leaves them.

It’s fair to point out that last year’s defense was under the tutelage of an entirely new coaching staff brought in by newly hired Jason Swepson. That could account for one reason as to why the defense struggled so mightily last year.

But I’m not buying it. I don’t want to hear people using the new coaching staff as in excuse. The fact of the matter is that the defense was not very good last year, that they need drastic improvement in order to compete with the elite in the Southern conference.

One can see at any level of football that a team with a prolific offense can only go so far with a less-than-stellar defense. The Phoenix defense can certainly improve. The impressive Spring Game performance by both the first and second string defenses is a huge step in the right direction.

But I want to see them stop the best offenses college football has to offer. I want them to show me they can limit the offenses of Southern Conference foes Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Only then will I consider the Phoenix a threat to win their conference and earn a trip to the FCS playoffs.

 

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  • Elon Fan

    You fail to mention that the Defense was 4th in Total Defense in the SoCon last year and the Offense was 6th in Total Offense. Sure, the Defense was 8th in Scoring Defense but a lot of that can be contributed to turnovers in our own end all year (for example, the Defense was 2nd in first downs allowed last year – meaning that the opposing team offenses didn’t need to get many first downs to score). The Defense was also 2nd in opponents’ 3rd down conversion percentage.

    The D can play a lot better this year for sure, but turnovers (36 overall, good for last in the league and 9 more than the next to last team) and lack of a rushing attack (last in the league) is what hurt this team last year. The D was 2nd in Pass Defense last year but admittedly their Rush Defense (7th in the SoCon) needs to be better.

    Both sides of the ball have to get better, but laying all of the blame and onus on the Defense seems a little unsupported by the facts.

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