Top Moments From 2017 - Do The Twist
A Look Back At A Key Defensive Play At Louisiana Tech
As fall camp approaches, with players reporting on August 2, MeanGreenSports.com takes a look back at some of the biggest moments from the 2017 season. Stay tuned each Wednesday as MeanGreenSports.com relives each of these key moments from the nine-win season last year. We continue our series with an Independence Day edition featuring a big-time defensive stop late in the win at Louisiana Tech.
In early November the Mean Green were looking to make statement on the road in their quest to win the Conference USA West division crown in Ruston, Louisiana. North Texas entered play 5-3 and 4-1 in conference and looked to knock out a perennial C-USA contender in a tough venue.
A 14-yard touchdown run by Jeffery Wilson and the ensuing extra point capped off an impressive 78-yard drive and pushed the visitors on top, 24-23 with 6:04 to play. In arguably one of the best complete-game performances by the Mean Green defense in 2017, they were called upon once again in a big spot.
The drive began quite favorably for the Mean Green, as they quickly forced the Bulldogs into a third-and-long situation right out of the gates, stopping running back Jarred Craft for a short loss and then forcing J'Mar Smith into an incompletion. Louisiana Tech responded well, however, as Smith connected with Kam McKnight for a 27-yard gain to put the Bulldogs near midfield.
As Louisiana Tech marched further into scoring territory, they hit a snag at the Mean Green 34. Smith and the Bulldogs elected to throw on first down, but Smith misfired on a throw to McKnight to set up second-and-10.
That was when the Mean Green defense seized control. On second down, Mean Green defensive coordinator Troy Reffett dialed up a call that hadn't been made to that point in the game. Perfect execution forced Louisiana Tech into a tough position.
Let's take a deeper look at what transpired:
The Bulldogs looked to pick up a few positive yards on a run by Craft to set their talented kicker up for a more comfortable attempt. Defensive end Andy Flusche and nose tackle Ulaiasi Tauaalo had other ideas, and immediate penetration following a twist on the inside led to a meeting at the ball-carrier in the backfield. The action on the interior portion of the defensive line caught Tech's offensive linemen completely off guard
Flusche reached Craft first, while Tauaalo and linebacker E.J. Ejiya joined the party to pull Craft down for a two-yard loss. This result immediately set the Bulldogs in a passing situation on third-and-12, and the Mean Green knew it.
They rushed just four, while dropping extra men into coverage, and Smith overshot his intended target, Marlon Watts, deep down the sideline. That set Barnes up for a 53-yard attempt, which he missed wide left.
North Texas then controlled the ball for the final 2:39, courtesy of 26 more yards from Wilson and a few kneel-downs from Mason Fine to seize control of the division and punch its ticket to bowl eligibility.
Wilson was key in the win, carrying 20 times for 165 yards and two scores. The defense however was the story. It held the Bulldogs to six second half points and just 315 yards of total offense. Defensive lineman Roderick Young was a monster in this one, recording 3.0 tackles for loss, one of which was a sack in the win.
What they said:
Defensive Lineman Andy Flusche -- "The boundary end and the nose were supposed to switch, which put me in the A-gap and put T.J. [Tauaalo] in the B-gap and it came clean just like it did in practice. They gave the ball to their running back and I met him perfectly there in the hole and T.J. met us to help bring him down. Very seldom do things work out perfectly like that, but that helped to push their kicker back a bit. I remember just watching the ball miss the uprights, that's when I knew we were going to win that game and it's when the celebration started.
"That win legitimized us. For us to go down there to their place to beat them is huge. Winning on the road is super special, especially against a good team, it felt great. With it being our sixth win it was like the icing on the cake. You know how the season went, six wasn't enough for us. It was huge but it wasn't the end."
Linebackers Coach Jeff Koonz -- "To me this stands out because in the last three to four years, they've kind of been the team to beat in the west. That win kind of catapulted us to a belief that this might be our year. That was a defining moment for me, and I know that beating Tech in Ruston really enhanced our confidence that we had leading up to this game.
"This was a play where this was the only time we called that defense the entire game. Flusche came in on the twist and it was a great call, but it was great execution by our guys. This turned the third down into a high-ratio third down, changing it from a third-and-10, which is hard enough, to third-and-12. We were then able to force them into a position where we could play coverage and they couldn't get everybody out. We had just brought pressure on second down, so they were expecting us to do that again. They tried to spread us out and we got a great pass rush out of four guys, leaving them nowhere to go."
Defensive Lineman Ulaiasi Tauaalo -- "We knew it was a big down and everyone was yelling `money down.' When the play was called, I looked to my left and [Andy] Flusche was already looking at me. We just shook our heads and already knew what we were about to do. As soon as the quarterback took the snap, Flusche was there to penetrate the A-gap and I wrapped around in case the quarterback bounced it back outside. Flusche made the play in the backfield and it was a picture-perfect play the way it turned out. When we won that game, it was the point when the new normal was set. That new normal was for us to just go out, play ball and start winning games."
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