Last year, amid numerous injuries and inexperience, the Central Michigan defense was statistically one of the worst in the nation. CMU gave up an average of 30.2 points per game and finished dead last in the MAC in pass defense as opponents averaged 287.2 yards per game on them. At the forefront of everything was Central Michigan defensive coordinator Tim Banks, who dealt with plenty of finger pointing from outsiders and faced more than his share of criticism. Enter 2009.
All Banks has done is stick with his system and forge one of the MAC's top defenses and a unit that has the Chippewas undefeated in conference play. This season CMU has allowed only 16.9 points per game and greatly improved their pass defense to the tune of 221.8 passing yards allowed per game.
"The guys have been working hard, playing extremely hard," said coach Banks. "We've had some guys who have played a lot of snaps around here, from Josh Gordy to Tommy Mama to Nick Bellore, and we're getting a lot of senior leadership."
As Coach Banks alluded to, the experience factor has been extremely helpful in making CMU one of the top defenses in the MAC.
"Anytime you play the game of football, you have to learn on the fly. Nothing teaches better than experience and I think that is starting to show a bit this year" added Banks.
Much like last year, the Chippewas are faced with a multitude of injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The challenge of injuries is nothing new to Coach Banks, who has seen a slew of them with his unit over the years.
"We talk about the next man in mentality, that's why we practice the way we do and we try to put our kids in situations where they have to think on the fly. They have to be ready to execute on a moments notice," said Coach Banks. "Obviously injuries are part of the game, so we just kind of stay on our guys about getting your opportunities, and when you're called on, you have to be ready to execute.
Last week the pass defense was exposed a bit and seemed to fall apart after Gordy left the game with an injury. As one of the top corners in the MAC, the loss of Gordy put extra pressure on the rest of CMU's defensive backs.
"Well, I think falling apart is a strong statement," laughed Coach Banks. "Obviously Josh is big to us, he's our field corner and probably has the most experience back there, and not having him was difficult. But as I said earlier, other guys have to step up. And let me say this about pass defense, pass defense is tied into a lot of things, you show me a good pass rush and I'll show you a good secondary, show me a good secondary, and I'll show you a good pass rush. It kind of goes hand in hand, so losing Josh, yeah it hurts, but I think collectively as a defense we just have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback and getting off the field".
Coach Banks then went on the elaborate on the important factors to fielding an effective defense.
"I think it's important," said Coach Banks on the need for a pass rush. "We have to be able to cover a little bit better and we have to be able to pressure the quarterback a little bit better. And more important than anything, in this day and age, if you look around the country, whether it's Texas, Florida State, West Virginia, it's just the nature of the beast playing spread teams. And I like to say the Mid-American Conference is like the Pac-10, the ball gets thrown a lot. So if you throw the ball 60 times, you're going to get some completions. The name of the game is to keep them from scoring, and if we can continue to do that, we'll always have a chance".
Speaking of spread teams, the Chippewas welcome another MAC team who deploys a version of the spread offense for this Wednesdays game (8pm, ESPN2) in the Toledo Rockets.
"That's a very, very good offense to say the least," said Coach Banks. "They're leading the MAC in total yardage I believe, yards per pass, they have a senior quarterback in Aaron Opelt who is a very dangerous player and they have two other young quarterbacks who have been very efficient. It's going to be a challenge for our guys, it's really like looking in a mirror and playing our offense. Any time your playing a spread team that has weapons, it's always difficult, so we're going to do everything we can to keep those guys inside and in front of us and hopefully give our team a chance to win".
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