Top Moments of 2016: Eric Jenkins’ Pick Six at Army

June 30, 2017

DENTON – Over the next five weeks, each Friday will look back on some of the top moments of the 2016 Mean Green football season.

We begin the series in West Point, New York, in late October. With the game tied at 7-7 with just over five minutes to play in the first quarter, junior cornerback Eric Jenkins intercepted a pass along the right sideline and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown to set the tone defensively for the Mean Green.

North Texas went on to force seven total turnovers, (tied for the most in an FBS game in 2016), on its way to a commanding 35-18 win on the road to improve to 4-3 on the season. That play helped turn the tide and lead to real serious thoughts of a bowl appearance. That notion from outside the program seemed to be a far cry after the tumultuous 2015 season.

“Our job [as a corner against that style of offense] is to keep our eyes on our man and not worry so much about what is going on in the middle,” Jenkins said. “I saw the quarterback raise up, I peeked at him and then put my eyes back on the receiver. The guy ran a five-yard stop, but the ball was too high and he tipped it. I ran for the ball and caught it, and from that point on, I thought, I know I’m about to six this. No one was in front of me, it was a clear lane and I just took it to the house. That play changed the momentum of that game. If the defense can score, that gives the offense a better chance to win. By just doing that, it helped the team a lot and that’s what I’m here for.”

In dissecting the play, Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw took his three-step drop on second down and five from the Black Knights’ own 30 yard line, the middle collapsed, allowing North Texas linebacker Joshua Wheeler to apply some pressure off the edge. Wheeler eluded a cut block attempt by Darnell Woolfolk and affected Bradshaw’s throw by getting quick penetration and also getting his hand up.

The result was a pass that sailed a bit on its intended receiver, Edgar Poe, who was only able to get a slight touch to it. Jenkins, who gave Poe a bit of a cushion was then alone to collect the wayward pass near the 35.

Jenkins then made a beeline down the right sideline until he hit the 20, where he cut inside to avoid Bradshaw. Wheeler then sealed off Bradshaw with a block and it was clear sailing to the end zone for Jenkins.

North Texas would not trail after that moment late in the first quarter, and the play sparked a 21-3 run for the Mean Green that lifted them to the comfortable victory.

“In the moment I’m thinking let me just get in this end zone.” Jenkins continued. “After I scored the touchdown I was like, I did not expect these guys to throw the ball. Our whole focus as corners is that one man. All game they could block you, fake block you, stutter and go, so the whole time you’ve got to be up on that. When I saw him coming towards me, his jog was a little different from the other times at the line, so I knew something was up. That said, I wasn’t expecting a five-yard out. It just happened so fast. It’s difficult though and that’s why you’ve got to watch film and know what kinds of releases a receiver can hit you with, how his speed is off the line. You have to watch their tendencies to know what he’s about to do.”

Jenkins finished his day with two interceptions, a forced fumble and a pair of tackles, responsible for three of the seven turnovers North Texas forced on the day. Wheeler was instrumental in getting the turnover-fest started with his key involvement on that fateful play.

“Going through the play, I saw the running back’s eyes and they were looking down, so I knew he was going for the cut,” Wheeler said of the play. “I played the cut block and just put my hand up to affect the vision of the quarterback. I saw the throw was a bit high and saw EJ pick it off and then he started streaking down the sidelines. It was natural instinct to go get out in front. I saw the quarterback had a nice angle on him, so I just told EJ to cut inside and set up the block so he could take it to the house.”

The Mean Green vaulted themselves into more of the national conversation after the strong road performance at Michie Stadium that autumn afternoon, with that play acting as a catalyst.

North Texas went on to play Army for a second time in a thrilling Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas in late December, a game in which Army outlasted the Mean Green 38-31 in overtime. Looking ahead to 2017, the pair meet for the third time in 13 months when they clash in Denton on November 18.

“Playing Army again this season will bring back a lot of good memories, as well as a lot of hurt from the last game,” Jenkins said. “That is still sticking with us right now and hopefully we come out with that same mentality we had in the first game we played against them. We still think about that bowl loss, we could have a ring right now. It left a bad taste in our mouths and the next time we play them, they’re coming into our house and we are not trying to let them come into our house and beat us.”

The Mean Green enter fall camp on July 30, with report day. Stay tuned each Friday before camp for some more of the top moments from last season.



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