Iowa Hawkeyes football has been all about defense in 2022, allowing 10 points or less on nine different occasions. The team allowed just 13.3 points per game for the season. On Saturday in Nashville they continued another consistent trend…scoring on defense. The team’s 21-0 TransPerfect Music City Bowl shutout victory over the Kentucky Wildcats featured two defensive touchdowns.
“Forever it seems like that our guys have done a good job…we do a good job with turnovers making them offensive opportunities if you will,” Ferentz said after the game. “Those guys know where to go, know where to get and our guys hustle when there is a turnover. They’re trying to make it more than just getting a possession.”
Nwankpa’s felt as if the performance only increased expectations for the future at Iowa.
“Definitely set the bar for me on where I gotta go, where I gotta improve from,” Nwanka said of the bowl game performance. “So just keep making plays, having fun during the spring and get ready for next fall.”
But he was quick to give credit to those around him.
“Winning MVP…I think is more of a team award, because without these guys on defense I couldn’t do what I was able to do,” DeJean offered modestly. “Those guys were pressuring the quarterback all game. A lot of credit to the guys up front and everybody else on the defense.”
Former New England Patriots tight ends coach Brian Ferentz has been Iowa's offensive coordinator since 2017. The Hawkeyes averaged 17.7 points per game in 2022.
Kentucky sophomore linebacker Trevin Wallace tackles Hawkeyes sophomore tight end Luke Lachey in the first quarter. Lachey, who had three catches for 36 yards and one touchdown, finished 2022 averaging 14.2 yards per catch.
Kentucky speedy freshman Barion Brown (No. 2 pictured) gets a step on All-Big Ten cornerback Riley Moss in the second quarter. Brown averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff return (TD) in 2022 and also led the Wildcats with 628 yards receiving (4 TDs).
Iowa freshman Xavier Nwankpa (seen communicating with teammates) returned an interception 52 yards for a score in his first career start.
Iowa's Seth Benson (No. 44 pictured) is about to tackle Kentucky's JaTahn McClain after beating cross block of Justice Dingle II (No. 47 pictured).
Iowa linebacker Seth Benson wraps up Kentucky RB JuTahn McClain with DE Joe Evans and LB Jack Campbell about to assist. Benson finished eighth in the Big Ten with 94 tackles in 2022.
Iowa LB Jack Campbell was once again active in this game (10 tackles, QB sack, 2 TFLs). Campbell posted his eighth double-digit tackle performance of 2022.
Kentucky's JuTahn McClain effectively picks up Iowa LB Jack Campbell on a blitz in the second quarter.
Iowa's Jack Campbell -the 2022 Butkus Award winner- wins inside of the running back as Kentucky QB Destin Wade drops back to pass in the second quarter. Campbell's only quarterback sack of the year came in this contest.
Kentucky redshirt freshman RB La'Vell Wright runs for a six-yard gain on an outside zone principle in the third quarter.
Iowa sophomore CB Cooper DeJean picks off this second quarter pass intended for Kentucky wide receiver Barrion Brown and scores a touchdown.
DeJean's third interception return for a touchdown tied Mississippi State's Emmanuel Forbes for the national lead in 2022.
DeJean (No. 3 pictured) -the 2022 Music Bowl MVP- crosses the goal line after his interception return for a touchdown. DeJean frequently made Iowa's fans go wild in 2022, as he finished with 75 tackles, five interceptions (3 TDs) and eight pass break ups. DeJean also averaged over 16.5 yards per punt return and posted a 34-yard return in the first quarter of the Music City Bowl.
Iowa punter Tory Taylor controlled field position most of the afternoon. He averaged over 48 yards per kick on eight punts.
Kentucky OLB Jordan Wright battles Iowa LT Mason Richman at the point of attack. Wright finished with 9.5 tackles for losses for the Wildcats in 2022.
Iowa freshman RB Jaziun Patterson attempts to make Kentucky safety Zion Childress miss during the fourth quarter.
Kentucky freshman DB Kobi Albert takes Iowa freshman RB Jaziun Patterson to the turf in the fourth quarter.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz holds up the 2022 Transperfect Music City Bowl trophy. The former UConn linebacker and four-time Big Ten Coach of the Year has now won 10 bowl games in his 24 years at the school.
The Oregon Ducks (10-3) were searching for something in head coach Dan Lanning’s first season to provide an exclamation point. Taking on a nine-win ACC Coastal champion -led by star quarterback Drake Maye- in the North Carolina Tar Heels (9-5) provided just the recipe. But after the Tar Heels went up 27-21 with just 2:29 remaining in the game, the outcome was still very much in doubt.
“That’s one of our go-to plays, we feel really good about that play (game-winning touchdown pass)…we’ve run it multiple times,” Nix recalled. “And sure enough they brought a house blitz and Chase knows over and over that’s the throw if we get house. He’s gonna get a natural pick going across the middle, and we did a great job of picking up the protection. We threw it over the middle and got a completion for a touchdown.”
On the other side of the field, ACC Offensive Player of the Year Drake Maye got off to a fast start (206 yards passing, 51%, 3 TDs) for the Tar Heels, but the Oregon defense began to combat some of his efforts in the second half.
A big reason?
They stayed in the present.
“I thought our team did a great job of being in the present,” Lanning said after the game. “Our players made great adjustments. Even some of those drives we stalled out…didn’t get a first down, I think our guys believed hey we’re gonna get a stop and get an opportunity to do it again. And that’s what it came down to. You’re talking about phenomenal players making great plays and down the stretch, that’s what you saw.”
For the first time, the 2022 SDCCU Holiday Bowl was held at Petco Park in downtown San Diego.
A Holiday Bowl tradition includes the Navy Leap Frogs flying in before the game...even on fire.
After the Navy Leap Frogs finished flying in, a helicopter flyover left the stadium.
There was a large contingent of Oregon fans who made the trip to San Diego.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning (pictured) led the Ducks to a 10-win season in his first year as head coach.
North Carolina running back Elijah Green, pictured, eludes Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP Mase Funa (7 tackles, QB sack, 2 TFLs) on this first quarter carry as a flag gets thrown for holding.
Oregon's secondary works through its man coverage versus UNC's wide receivers while defending a bunch trips formation in the Red Zone.
Oregon safety Jamal Hill and defensive end Mase Funa attempt to corral North Carolina's Kobe Paysour (No. 8 pictured) on a six-yard completion in the first quarter.
North Carolina head coach Mack Brown walks the sideline during the 2022 Holiday Bowl. Brown -a former running back at Vanderbilt and Florida State- has won 274 games in his illustrious coaching career.
UNC LB Kaimon Rucker tackles Oregon RB Noah Whittington (No. 33 pictured) during the third quarter as Cedric Gray (No. 33 pictured) chases alongside.
UNC's Drake Maye talking on the sidelines with the coaches after a second quarter scoring drive. Maye finished a spectacular freshman campaign with three touchdown passes, but completed just 14-of-35 passes in the contest. The ACC Offensive Player of the Year accounted for 45 touchdowns (38 PASS, 7 RUSH) in 2022.
Oregon left tackle T.J. Bass (No. 56 pictured) prepares to take on North Carolina defensive end Jahvaree Ritzie in the third quarter of the game.
Oregon QB Bo Nix releases a ball during the team's game-winning fourth quarter touchdown drive. Nix -an Auburn transfer- accounted for 43 touchdowns (29 PASS, 14 RUSH) in his first year for the Ducks. He completed 77% of his passes (205 yds, 2 TDs, INT) in the 2022 Holiday Bowl.
Oregon's Noah Whittington (No. 22 pictured) goes one-on-one with cornerback Marcus Allen. Whittington finished the season with 779 yards rushing (5.6 YPC) and 5 TDs and also caught 22 passes (TD).
Oregon CB Trikweze Bridges (3 tackles, 2 PBUs) tackles North Carolina RB Omarion Hampton for no gain after rushing on a cornerback blitz in the fourth quarter.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning holds up the Holiday Bowl trophy as his team celebrates.
Oregon's Jeffrey Bassa (pictured left) celebrates with his teammates after the team's Holiday Bowl victory.
The 2022 Servpro First Responder Bowl featured two teams in the Memphis Tigers (6-6) and Utah State Aggies (6-6) trying to get over the .500 mark. Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan completed 20-of-29 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns to earn game MVP honors.
Despite the outstanding performance, Henigan was quick to credit teammates after the game.
“We had a bunch of players make plays,” Henigan offered. “Jey (Jeyvon Ducker) had a long touchdown run, and a couple here and there. Preiskorn (Caden) had a touchdown, Eddie (Lewis) had a good over the shoulder catch, Joe (Joseph Scates) had one up the sideline. They were just getting open for me and, with enough time, we were having success.”
His deference should not take away from the sophomore’s two-year run as a starter for the Tigers. The former Denton Ryan High School (Tex.) standout earned the starting job as a true freshman and has not looked back. Through two seasons as a starter, he has completed 62-percent of his passes for 6,893 yards with 47 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
“I think the bounce back by Seth, who came out and played his tail off…kind of shows you the resilience that we’re all about,” Silverfield explained. “For me, that’s why it’s personal and I’m proud to be able to get a win today because of what it meant to those guys in the locker room.”
The 2022 Servpro First Responder Bowl trophy represents a game that started off in 2011 as the TicketCity Bowl before getting rebranded to the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013. Since 2018, the bowl has been named the First Responder Bowl.
Memphis OG Davion Carter gets into a battle with Utah State LB AJ Vongphachanh near the goal line. Vongphachanh led the Aggies with 101 tackles and finished second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss in 2022.
Memphis quarterback and First Responder Bowl MVP Seth Henigan (seen throwing the ball rolling right in the second quarter) threw for over 400 yards two times in 2022.
Utah State OLB Byron Vaughns turns the corner and pressures Memphis QB Seth Henigan on this second quarter touchdown pass to Eddie Lewis.
Memphis WR Eddie Lewis caught 42 passes for 615 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022. He also averaged 9.8 yards per punt return (TD) for the season.
Lewis (pictured running into the end zone) beat Utah State senior DB Ajani Carter on this touchdown catch. It was the first of two touchdown receptions for Lewis on the afternoon.
Memphis WR Joseph Scates attempts to make an acrobatic catch during this game. Scates averaged 22.9 yards per catch with four touchowns this season.
Memphis PK Chris Howard kicks a field goal during the second quarter of the game. Howard, a first-team All-AAC selection, made 21-of-24 field goal attempts in 2022.
Memphis sophomore defensive back Joel Williams picks off a pass in the end zone during the fourth quarter of the 2022 First Responder Bowl.
Senior linebacker Cincir Evans, pictured, holds up the 2022 Servpro First Responder Bowl trophy while being surrounded by teammates.
“I told yall a couple of day ago that he (Tune) was going to call a lot of the plays based on his familiarity with what they were going to do defensively,” Holgorsen offered after the game. “He changed that play (game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass to Dell) right. That’s what make this relationship (pointing to Tune and Dell) so special.”
Houston defensive lineman Zykeius Strong (No. 90 pictured) and linebacker Donavan Mutin (No. 3 pictured) lead the Cougars entrance onto the field in the 2022 Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl.
Louisiana CB-KR Eric Garror (No. 7 pictured) returned two punts for touchdowns in 2022 for the Ragin' Cajuns. During his career, he also posted nine interceptions, three punt return TDs and 26 pass breakups.
Houston S Noah Guzman is about to meet Louisiana KR Eric Garror in the 2022 Independence Bowl.
Dell, Jr. (No. 1 pictured) had an all-day battle with Louisiana CB Trey Amos. He uses a jab step to release from Amos off the line of scrimmage on this play.
After beating Amos off of the line of scrimmage, Dell was able to use his speed on a crossing route. The Florida native led the nation with 17 touchdown receptions in 2022 and posted 31 in a spectacular three-year run for the Cougars. Despite excellent coverage from Amos (No. 21 pictured) much of the afternoon, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Tune.
Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns fans braved temperatures in the teens for the 2022 Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Clayton Tune (No. 3 pictured) handled the cold weather well and passed for 229 yards with three touchdown passes. He finished the year with 40 touchdown passes and is now headed to the 2023 Reese's Senior Bowl.
Fellow wide receiver Ke'Sean Carter (No. 8 pictured) catches a 49-yard corner route vs. Louisiana CB Eric Garror and S Bralen Trahan in the second quarter. He finished with four receptions for 104 yards and one touchdown.
Redshirt sophomore LT Nathan Thomas (No. 50 pictured) engages Houston stalwart DL D'Anthony Jones (No. 44 pictured) on the edge to protect QB Chandler Fields during Saturday's game.
2022 Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl defensive MVP No. 26 Art Green (9 tackles, PBU) breaks up a pass intended for Louisiana WR Neal Johnson, Jr. in the end zone during the second quarter of Friday's contest.
Gervarrius Owens (No. 2 pictured) and Louisiana WR Neal Johnson, Jr. both go in opposite directions in full chemistry during a second quarter pass in the 2022 Independence Bowl.
Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns PK Kenneth Almendares kicks a field goal in the 2022 Independence Bowl. Almendares made two 42-yard field goals in the cold temperatures of Shreveport.
As a result of his three-field goal performance, Almendares (pictured in the middle) practiced his dance moves with teammates Johnny Lumpkin (No. 88 pictured) and Pearse Migl (No. 24 pictured).
Houston's Art Green, Nathaniel Dell, Clayton Tune and Ta'Zhawn Henry celebrate the 2022 Independence Bowl championship with head coach Dana Holgorsen.
The Beavers had 24 first downs to the Gators 13, scored on five of its six Red Zone scoring attempts and converted seven-of-12 third down opportunities in a resounding 30-6 victory in Allegiant Stadium.
But when asked to compare the current team to the one in which he passed for a career-high 2,773 yards and 20 touchdowns at the beginning of the century, the 2022 Pac-12 Co-Coach of the Year was having none of it.
“Ahhh…yeah,” Smith said in an aw-shucks manner while laughing . “I’m not going to be a smart aleck now. I think that both those teams had really good players on it and, again, special years on both instances. Really happy with this team. I’ll leave it there.”
Allegiant Stadium was the home of the 2022 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl.
Oregon State fans made the trek from Corvalis, Oregon to support the team in the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl.
The Oregon State offensive line, led by senior right guard Bradnon Kipper (No. 68 pictured) provided protection throughout the contest. The line led a team that rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter (No. 9 pictured seen getting his hands up on a field goal block attempt) finished the 2022 campaign with 55 tackles, two quarterback sacks, four tackles for loss and one interception.
Florida LB Amari Burney (No. 2 pictured) chasing after Oregon State RB Deshaun Fenwick in the open field. Fenwick finished with 107 yards on 21 carries.
Fenwick (No. 5 pictured) often found the cutback lanes behind the double team blocks of Kipper (No. 68 pictured) and center Jake Levengood (No. 70 pictured).
Trey Dean III (No. 0 pictured) attempts to tackle Oregon State running back Jam Griffin during the fourth quarter of the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl.
Oregon State RB Jam Griffin (No. 8 pictured) stiff-arms Florida DB Trey Dean III during the fourth quarter of the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl.
Jam Griffin (No. 8 pictured) scores his seventh touchdown of the year in the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl.
Griffin (No. 8 pictured) does the Gator Chomp after putting the Beavers up 30-0 against Florida in the fourth quarter of the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl.
Oregon State redshirt freshman quarterback Ben Gulbranson threw for 165 yards (63%) and one touchdown. The 2022 Las Vegas Bowl MVP also rushed for a touchdown in the contest.
Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith (seen holding up the 2022 Las Vegas Bowl trophy) became the first coach to lead the team to a 10-win season since Mike Riley back in 2006.
UPDATE: The game was bittersweet for many Tigers fans, as both head coach Deion Sanders and Shedeur are now headed to lead the Colorado Buffaloes in 2023 after they took on UNC-Central in the 2022 Cricket Celebration Bowl.
The 2022 SWAC Championship game filled Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The Southern Jaguars cheerleaders were floating in the air while giving their fans entertainment all afternoon.
Jackson State head coach Deion "Prime" Sanders walks the sidelines during the team's victory. Sanders compiled a 27-6 record in three seasons for the Tigers.
Southern quarterback Glendon McDaniel looking for a receiver in the pocket behind left tackle Eli Fields.
Southern left tackle Eli Fields (No. 78 pictured) deposits Jackson State DE Justin Ragin (No. 92 pictured) on a run play in the first quarter.
Southern's band, appropriately named "The Human Jukebox" prepares to perform at halftime of the 2022 SWAC Championship game.
Jackson State QB Shedeur Sanders' ability to escape pressure improved in 2022.
Southern's Jordan Carter hits Jackson State's Shedeur Sanders in mid-air
Cornerback De'Jahn Warren breaks up a pass along the sidelines in the third quarter of the 2022 SWAC Championship game.
Southern quarterback Glendon McDaniel threw for 220 yards (TD) and rushed for 162 yards (2 TDs) in the game.
McDaniel frequently got away from Jackson State's defenders with a variety of moves in the contest.
Jackson State's Devin Hayes, Tayvion Beasley and Donavan Hunt take in the team's championship victory.
Jackson State wide receiver Shane Hooks celebrates the team's second consecutive SWAC Championship.
Army head coach Jeff Monken led the Black Knights to its third Armed Forces Bowl victory in last-minute fashion. The Black Knights were led by a rambunctious running game that featured running back Jakobi Buchanan. After an injury to starting quarterback Christian Anderson, the team turned to two different quarterbacks, Tyhier Tyler and Jabari Laws, to lead the team down the stretch.
Senior linebacker and team captain Arik Smith garnered Armed Forces Bowl Game MVP honors after posting 12 tackles, two quarerback sacks and two-and-a half tackles for losses in the team’s victory. Junior placekicker Cole Talley banged home the game-winning field goal with no time remaining on the clock to secure the team’s 24-22 victory.
The 2021 Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl was the first of two bowl games in three days to take place at Toyota Stadium, the home of the FC Dallas Burn. The game pitted two teams that entered the game with a combined total of 23 victories. In a contest that largely lived up to the billing, the Brady Hoke-led Aztecs (12-2) took over the contest in the second half to win 38-24. It was just the second loss for the 24th-ranked Roadrunners (12-2), who have turned into one of the nation’s up-and-coming programs under Texas high school coaching legend and 2021 C-USA Coach of the Year Jeff Traylor.
Chavous discusses who won the highly-anticipated battle between UTSA offensive tackle Spencer Burford and SDSU defensive end Cameron Thomas. In addition, he goes inside the bowl game MVP performances from wide receiver Jesse Matthews and safety CJ Baskerville.
The Blazers were led by running back DeWayne McBride (5’11, 215, SOPH), who rushed for 183 yards on 28 carries behind an offensive line featuring LT Kadeem Telfort (6’8, 335, R-JR) and RT Colby Ragland (6’5, 315, R-SR). Chavous breaks down both in the video, along with their star deep threats in tight end Gerrit Prince (6’5, 240, R-SR) and junior wide receiver Trea Shropshire (6’3 195, JR).
On the other side, BYU had a stalwart of its own in star running back Tyler Allgeier (5’11, 220, R-SOPH). Allgeier finished with 192 tough yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Playing without injured quarterback Jaren Hall (6’1, 205, SOPH), the team turned to the Romneys, Baylor (6’2, 195, SOPH) and Gunner (6’2, 195, JR) to get it done in support. But it was one of BYU’s freshman defenders who stood out. Find out who it was in Corey Chavous’ video in-game report.
The 2021 CSJ Bahamas Bowl features a number of healthy individual storylines, but perhaps none more so than a three-fers approach for one of the nation’s top defenses. Injuries and improved play have been a theme for both teams heading into the contest. Toledo (7-5), led by first-year starting quarterback DeQuan Finn, reeled off victories in four of its last five games. Middle Tennessee (6-6) rebounded from a 2-4 start by winning four of its final six contests to achieve bowl eligibility. The Blue Raiders eventually settled on freshman quarterback Nicholas Vattiato, a Plantation, Florida native, in its last four games. Today, however, we spotlight one of the game’s top defensive minds and a philosophy that has led to eye-popping results.
MTSU Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer’s three-fers
Shafer, the former Syracuse head coach, is one of the more creative defensive minds in all of college football. Shafer-led defenses are known for producing turnovers and touchdowns, and they do so on a regular basis. In 2021, his unit has forced a whopping 18 fumbles (T-2nd nationally), recovered 15 fumbles (T-1st nationally) and picked off 16 passes (314 yards, 3 TDs). For good measure, the team has also returned three fumbles for scores. Their six defensive touchdowns are tied for first in all of FBS football with Nevada and Ohio State. One of the reasons? Shafer’s recruiting philosophy. He talks about recruiting three-fers. Three-fers are high school athletes who play three different positions (in football) and three different sports.
So which players on MTSU’s explosive defense have contributed to his unique philosophy?
The first-team All-C-USA safety was a star quarterback at West Limestone High School (Ala.), where he rushed for over 3,000 yards, passed for over 1,000 yards and tallied 1,004 receiving yards. The former state championship basketball player is the unquestioned leader of the defense, combining a coach’s intelligence with positive movement skills. After back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, Blankenship has largely returned to his 2018 form, when he picked off four passes and returned one of the interceptions 100 yards for a score. His angles have been hit-or-miss at times as a tackler, but he typically posts at least one highlight film play per game. Blankenship was forced to miss over 40 days of summer workouts in 2020 due to quarantine for COVID-19, but never tested positive. That absence gave him an even stronger appetite to be around both teammates and coaches, whom he steadily gives credit to both on and off the field.
“It starts off just listening to the coaches,” Blankenship said when asked about his long run of big plays at the school. “It’s all about your teammates on the plays you make.”
He finished third on the team in 2021 with 10 tackles for loss, returned a fumble 90 yards for a score and forced two fumbles. The respect he has for those around him is definitely reciprocal.
“He has a high football IQ. Good vision. Patience. Very good football player,” Shafer said of Blankenship. “There’s a comfort factor there.”
Blankenship recently received an invite to the 2022 East-West Shrine All-Star Game in Las Vegas, Nevada.
3 Quincy Riley 6’0 181 CB-R-Freshman MTSU
The next of Shafer’s three-fers who stood out in 2021 was Riley, a former A.C. Flora High School (S.C.) product with blazing recovery speed.
Riley won the South Carolina Class 4A state track and field championship with a blazing 10.48 100-meter time back in 2019. His confidence on the field allows for him to jump routes early in the down, as UTSA quarterback Frank Harris discovered early in 2021 when trying to throw an out pattern to Riley’s side that he picked and nearly took back the distance.
Injuries have been a bit of a hiccup for Riley, who missed four games in 2021. Technically, he is eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft after having played in three games back in 2019, his first year on campus. During that season, a season-ending injury also thwarted his charge. In fact, the first-team All-C-USA freshman corner posted five interceptions for 153 yards (TD) in just eight games this season. In 2020, prior to injury, he picked off two passes (77 yards) in an All-C-USA freshman campaign.
So what other sport made him one of the three-fers?
“He was a great basketball player in high school,” Shafer said.
Yes. Another player who fits the bill. And in football, he stood out playing wide receiver at the prep level, notching over 300 yards receiving as a senior with six special teams scores.
91 Jordan Ferguson 6’2 262 DL-Junior MTSU
The permanent team captain rounds out our list on Shafer’s philosophy, although the defense is littered with players who fit the bill. Ferguson is actually tied with another of the three-fers, safety Gregory Grate (5’11, 197, JR), for the team lead in forced fumbles (three). The Cartersville High School (Ga.) product plays a variety of roles for the team, as he aligns at defensive tackle, defensive end and rush outside linebacker. In fact, he has seen time as a personal protector on the punt team.
In high school he was a star tight end, racking up 15 touchdowns as a junior alone. Shafer found him somewhere else.
“He played high school basketball as a kid,” Shafer said. “Great leader. He is capable of playing inside or outside (on the defensive line). Ran practices for the team when we weren’t there.”
The second-team All-C-USA performer certainly was there for the team in 2021, when he notched career-highs in sacks (eight), tackles for loss (16.5), forced fumbles (three) and quarterback hurries (14). In the team’s bowl-clinching win versus Florida Atlantic, he took a fumble return back 71 yards for a score.
The three-fers don’t stop with those three, no pun intended, as second-team All-C-USA linebacker DQ Thomas (80 tackles, 5 QB sacks, 14.5 TFLs, FF, 2 INTs (43 yds, TD), 2 PBUs) was a powerlifter at the prep level. Versus Virginia Tech, he ran down quarterback Braxton Burmeister for a sack and was in on several pressures. The Oxford, Mississippi native is the school’s all-time leader in tackles for loss (51.5) heading into his final career game.
But it all goes back to the former collegiate quarterback drawing up the defenses and his own unique recruiting philosophy. Shafer’s mix of pre-snap defensive movement (involving safeties and linebackers), zone blitzes, six-man pressures, five-man fire zones and multiple looks leads to confusion for opposing offenses.
He credits MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill for being open to his various suggestions during games.
“He’s open to thoughts before, during and after games,” the longtime defensive coordinator said.
And with three head coaches on one coaching staff (Stockstill, Shafer and former Clemson HC Tommy West), perhaps they meet the three-fers philosophy on their own.
After all, as Shafer put it, “there’s nothing we’re afraid to communicate.”