Howard University's pass defense is second in the conference statistically, but Bison defensive backs are concentrating far more on their performance against the run.
"We had a very good secondary last year and this year feel it might be even better," said Doug Jones, the strong safety known as "The Bison" in the 4-3 defense. "But no one passed against us that much. Teams in our conference just don't throw that often. Since teams prefer to run the ball, we work a lot on our tackling techniques."
Because Howard was so weak against the run last year, there was no need for opponents to throw. The secondary of Jones, Jimmy Diggs, Charley Taylor and Robert Forte received many opportunities to improve their open-field tackling.
Howard's defense against the rush showed marked improvement in last week's 41-14 victory over Cheyney State, but the deep backs were still in on more than their share of first hits.
Jones, a four-year starter, is tied with linebacker Martin Brown for the team lead in first hits with 11. Diggs and Forte, who sprained his ankle last week and will be replaced Saturday by Carl Roy, both have nine first hits. Taylor has four unassisted tackles and eight assists.
"It's not a very good sign when the defensive backs make most of the tackles," said Jones, who is 5-foot-10 and weighs 185. "But our new 4-3 defense is improving and we're hoping it'll be able to stop the runners before they get to us."
Diggs, the right cornerback, doesn't mind coming up to play the run but hopes Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teams open up their offenses so "we can get some action back there."
Howard has allowed 126 passing yards per game in its first two contests. Bethune-Cookman, which plays at Howard Stadium Saturday, is the conference leader in that department, allowing 121.5. The Wildcats (1-1) also lead in interceptions, with six. Howard has none.
Howard's pass-defense statistics should improve this week because Bethune-Cookman has not shown much offense, either running or passing the football, in its first two games.
In their 14-10 loss to Southern and 28-11 win over Texas Southern, the Wildcats averaged only 161 yards on offense. Freshman quarterback Bernard Hawk has completed 20 of 29 passes for only 134 yards. The leading receiver is senior Darryl Crane, who has eight catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
"I remember Crane from last year," Jones said. "He's quick and a good receiver. But when you work against Sandy (Nichols, the quarterback), Tracy (Singleton, split end) and the other receivers we have every day, you don't worry about anyone else."
"We have to put a good rush on and destroy the quarterback's timing," Howard Coach Floyd Keith said. "That's the one thing Bethune-Cookman does so well. We were a lot better last week than we were against Maine (a 38-15 loss), but let's not kid ourselves. Cheyney State is no Maine or Bethune-Cookman."