By Xavier Holloway/Asst. Sports Director
The early expectation going into the 2018 football regular season was that the Panthers young secondary would be the team’s Achilles heel and possibly hold back the “Butch Boyz” from a shot at the Conference USA championship game, and another bowl run.
Defensive back coach Eric Thatcher has been working with young defensive backs like redshirt freshman Dorian Hall and sophomore Rishard Dames all season and both players exhibited this training by nabbing an interception each against UTSA on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Although Thatcher was aware of the uncertainty surrounding the young defensive secondary earlier in the year, his guidance of the players over the course of the season has turned this young secondary into one of the Panthers’ strengths on defense.
“I told my group, the outside noise about us is something we should never worry about,” said coach Thatcher. “All we can do is go out and practice hard, give great effort, and lock-in to whatever the game plan is that week.”
The Panthers rank third in pass defense for all of Conference USA, while also having two players who are in the top ten in catching interceptions in the conference.
Sophomore defensive back Richard Dames, twin brother to Rishard Dames, is tied with freshman linebacker Rocky Jacques-Louis with three interceptions apiece.
“The biggest improvement since the beginning of the season has been the group’s belief in one another,” said Thatcher. “Due to experience from playing with each other, the guys have begun to trust each other in the secondary and can now focus on getting the ball back to the offense.”
Even with a youthful group of defensive backs trending upward in their pass defense, coach Thatcher is still not entirely thrilled with their total output.
The defensive back coach feels the secondary is just as responsible as the linemen and linebackers in limiting the run.
The run defense has been an issue all season long for the Panthers and served as one of the main contributors for their blowout loss against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 3.
“We have to dominate the run game as a whole defense and swarm to the football. If you can stop the run, you have a good chance of winning the football game.”