UAM's defense key to recent success

MONTICELLO — In their last two games, the Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils have jumped out to a sizeable lead only to see their offense stall, as both opponents were able to nearly rally for a comeback victory.

Two weeks ago, UAM was leading Lindenwood University-Belleville 41-7 but the Lynx rattled off 20-straight points to cut the deficit to just a two scores as UAM won 41-27.

Last week, the Weevils scored 17 straight points in the first quarter to take 17-3 lead over winless Southern Nazarene. However, the Crimson Storm got within three points in the fourth quarter as UAM narrowly won 22-19 for its fifth win at home this season.

UAM’s defense has proven to be the difference maker in both of those wins — especially against SNU as the Weevils forced three interceptions including a take away by junior linebacker Alex Black near the goal line right before halftime.

“That was a complete effort,” UAM defensive coordinator Keith Scott said. “We always say we want to have our offense’s back.

“We want to be right there for them and Saturday’s win was a true testament for us. Our defense stepping up and helping us win the football game.”

Junior Mike Early and senior Deshaun Thomas also had interceptions. UAM had eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss in the win over SNU.

“We want to create turnovers,” Scott said. “The most important thing is getting the offense the ball.

“We forced three or four turnovers. It is a process and I hope we can continue to do it until it becomes a habit.”

After falling behind 3-0 to SNU in the first quarter, UAM scored 17 straight points including a 61-yard punt return touchdown by Ivory Washington which gave the Weevils a 14-point lead with 1:24 left in the first quarter.

But from there, UAM was unable to regain any sort of momentum.

“The momentum just never went into anybody’s favor,” head coach Hud Jackson said after Saturday’s game. “I don’t think the momentum swung in anybody’s favor.

“… In a game like this, where there is no momentum, you just have to anchor down and do what you can do.

“It was a weird deal. It felt strange.”

UAM managed 102 yards of total offense and was 2 of 4 on third down in the first quarter. But for the rest of the game, UAM totaled just 118 yards of offense and was 2 of 12 on third down, which put a lot of pressure on the Weevils’ defense.

“It is no pressure, it is about defense,” senior defensive end Davis Stephens said last week. “It is about seeing who is the best. Good on good like Coach Scott says. We came out and we won it.

“There was no pressure. We are going to do what we do best which is put pressure on the quarterback and get interceptions.”

Stephens had five tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. Junior defensive end Louis Curry led the Weevils with 9 total tackles and 2 1/2 sacks.

UAM leads the GAC and ranks 12th in the country in pass defense, allowing just 174 yards through the air per game. The Weevils have held their opponents to less than 200 yards passing in five of the eight games so far this season, including holding Arkansas Tech to just 23 yards passing four weeks ago at home.

UAM gained one turnover in the win over Lindenwood-Belleville to improve its overall turnover margin this year to plus-9. That margin ranks 12th in the country and leads the GAC.

UAM earned its first shutout since last season’s opener by defeating ATU 34-0 at Willis “Convoy” Leslie Cotton Boll Stadium on Oct. 5.

“That was an offense that almost beat (Nicholls State),” Scott said. “We were able to control them and slow down their running back and keep them out of the end zone.”

UAM will host nationally ranked and undefeated Henderson State this week. Scott said the key for the game is to be absolutely perfect on defense.

“It is really simple,” Scott said. Those guys (Early, Black, Stephens) who have made plays will have to continue to make plays.

“If we have a chance to get an interception we need to get it. We need to get off the field. It’s got to be sacks and not just quarterback pressure.

“When the ball is in the air, we got to get those takeaways.”

The game is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.