Jerry Glanville, now at Portland State, was credited with instilling a slugger’s mentality in two seasons as UH’s defensive coordinator. Last year, the Warriors were 17th in forcing turnovers. But they ranked 93rd (out of 119 Division I-A teams) in total defense and 105th against the pass.
“We want to build on the good things that we did last year,” said Greg McMackin, who returns as defensive coordinator after an eight-year sabbatical at Texas Tech and the San Francisco 49ers. “What we want to do defensively is set the bar high. We want to play at a high level and continue to improve.”
McMackin crafted 10 goals that he posted in each of the defensive meeting rooms. At the top of the list is “to score.”
“We want to be one of the top-scoring defenses, or we want to set up our offense to score,” McMackin said.
McMackin starts each practice with interception drills, in which cornerbacks run pass routes. There are specific drills on scooping fumbles and where to set up blocks on interception or fumble returns.
As he did in 1999, when he was on Jones’ first staff, McMackin installed a 4-3 scheme designed to speed up the defense.
The two defensive tackles are required to use their strength to control the interior linemen and recede the line of scrimmage. McMackin refers to the defensive tackle position as “gold.”
“Gold is important,” McMackin said. “It’s classy. It shows a lot of style. It’s what we build on. If we didn’t have gold, we can’t run this defense.”
The nine other defenders are on blitz alert. “Those guys,” defensive tackle Michael Lafaele said, “are platinum. Platinum is more valuable than gold.”
Despite multiple-blitz packages, the emphasis, McMackin said, is “to control the run. That’s our goal going into the game, any game.”
Against the scouts, the defense will work on countering running schemes, such as two tight end formations. Against the pass, the defense practices against the nation’s No. 1 offense. “You’re not going to get a better look from anybody in the country,” McMackin said.
The Warriors have three defensive schemes — regular (4-3), Oky (3-3) and nickel (4-2) — all of which require the defensive tackles to overpower the interior linemen. “This isn’t like the 3-4, where you read the line,” Laeli said. “We have to be fast and quick right after the snap.” Lafaele said McMackin’s instructions were simple: “Pin our ears back and kick the guy’s butt. Get a hand on them, push them back, move the line of scrimmage, disrupt the running game.”
The defensive linemen also have mastered the club, an uppercut to the shoulder pads. “It’s all in the hips,” Lafaele said. “That’s where the power comes from.”
Several of the linemen took boxing lessons this summer. Lafaele is a brown belt in karate.