John Denton's Knights Insider

Oct. 21, 2009

UCF's football season has been filled with plenty of highs and lows so far, but the one constant has been the steady play of the Knights' stingy, unbreakable defense.

That defense had one of its finest efforts ever last Saturday night against Miami, dropping superstar quarterback Jacory Harris six times and making life mostly miserable for Miami's offense.

That effort was especially appreciated by defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable. His unit held Miami to 10 points in the first half and had the Knights in a position to pull off a shocker had they been able to create some breaks in the red zone.

Huxtable is in his second season as UCF's defensive coordinator after working specifically with the linebackers and special teams from 2004-07. Also a defensive coordinator previously at North Carolina and Georgia Tech, the transition for Huxtable has been a seamless one.

His defense has taken on his personality: Gritty, tough, no-nonsense. And that shows in the national rankings: UCF ranks 10th nationally in run defense (90.33 yards per game), three spots ahead of the University of Florida's defense. UCF is 41st in the nation in scoring defense (21.1 points allowed per game) and 52nd in overall defense (344.1 yards per game). And Huxtable's defense is usually in attack mode as evidenced by its 18 sacks, which is tied for the 11th most in the country per game (3.0).

Huxtable spoke with Knights Insider this week about how thrilled he is with the growth of his defense. Here is the question-and-answer session with the leader of UCF's defense:

Knights Insider: What is it about the way the defense has played so far that you have been the most proud of?

Coach Huxtable: Number one, they are playing hard and giving us a full 60 minutes. They work so hard in practice and then they go out on Saturday and give us everything they have. We haven't always been perfect or right, but we work hard. Those young kids back in the secondary have six games under their belts and I'm seeing some improvement in them. I'm most proud of the effort they all have given and have played 60 minutes every night.

Knights Insider: When the defensive line and the linebackers get after the quarterback the way they did Saturday against Miami, how cool was that for you to watch?

Coach Huxtable: That was really cool. I really challenged our defensive line and linebackers to really get after their offense and they really accepted the challenge. Our defensive line did a great job and they really had a lot of effort when we did blitz. They had their best effort all season in terms of just bringing it. They were relentless in their effort.

Knights Insider: The pressure of your defensive ends, in particular, seem to dictate just how much pressure you get on the quarterback. How has the growth of Bruce Miller, Jarvis Geathers and Darius Nall as rushers helped formulate how you attack defensively?

Coach Huxtable: Bruce, Jarvis and Darius have been real warriors for us, especially Bruce. He plays outside and plays inside on the nickel package. We've moved him around and feel like we can play him anywhere. He's a bulldog and he just goes, goes and goes.

Darius and Jarvis give us that speed off the edge. They're not the biggest guys out there, but they are going against those 6-6, 315-pound tackles and their edge is their speed and quickness. They have done such a good job and they have helped our coverage.

This past week, our coverage was tighter. We gave up some plays, but we were where we needed to be and just have to make plays better. But some of those sacks were the result of some good coverage.

Knights Insider: You have an experienced, fifth-year senior like Cory Hogue in the middle making a lot of the calls. How much peace of mind does that give a defensive coordinator when you have a player of his ilk running the show on the field?

Coach Huxtable: He makes all the calls. Cory is such a valuable player to our defense. I teased him the other day that he's been playing here for eight years and he gave me a look. He's so smart and knows the defense so well. I feel like I can do just about anything, put it on Cory and he'll make the adjustments and make the calls.

That's what happened in the Miami game. He really took charge of the defense, the adjustment and the checks, and I told him after the game just how proud I was of him. We're very fortunate to have Cory Hogue.

Knights Insider: This transition from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, how challenging has it been for you?

Coach Huxtable: I'm coaching football, so I love it. I miss coaching a position, but being a walk-around coordinator I get to be involved with all of the positions. I get to stick my nose in over here and over here and I get to be around all of them instead of just coaching one position.

I'm enjoying it. The fun of football is winning, but really the fun for me is being with a group of guys like this who have a coach-me-coach attitude. It's been so much fun for me.

Knights Insider: A lot of your players say the thing that they like most about you is that you are an old-school, no-nonsense type of coach who stresses that you have to produce to play. Do you think your mentality has rubbed off on your players?

Coach Huxtable: We're in the performance business and if you're not performing you're not getting your job done. People are coming to watch us play on Saturday, so Monday through Friday we have to take care of our business. Then when we put our cleats in that grass on Saturday it's time to perform. We have to make things happen and do our jobs.

I'm tough on them. I talk to them all the time about tough love. I'm going to be tough and get after their butts, but when they do a great job I'll have fun with them. They know we have a job to do and I expect them to perform well.

Knights Insider: The Miami game was a tough loss, but do you as a coach have a job to do now to remind the team there is still plenty to play for?

Coach Huxtable: There is so much left to play for. We're just halfway through the season. Miami was a game that we wanted to win, but we can't sit there and look in the rear-view mirror. We've got so much ahead of us to play for. That's what I talked to the defense about. The schedule didn't say play Miami and then end of schedule. We have a bunch of Conference USA games left to play and we're still in the hunt with some things. We have a lot out there ahead of us to play for and we're going to keep playing hard.

John Denton's Knights Insider appears every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.