The Lehigh football team’s defense needed a change.
After coming in at 106th overall in the FCS last season, the defense allowed over 450 yards and 35 points per game. It gave up 59 points to Fordham University and 49 points to Colgate University in a game that, if Lehigh had won, would’ve given the Hawks a chance for a three-way share of the Patriot League Championship. It even gave up 35 points to Lafayette College, a team that was held to under 10 points in seven games.
But in the annual Brown and White spring game, the defense dominated from the start.
Two of the first three plays of the game were sacks on junior quarterback Nick Shafnisky — one by sophomore defensive lineman Tyler Cavenas and another by junior linebacker Evan Kauffman.
The defense finished with eight sacks in a game that featured modified scoring, which, for example, gave the defense two points for each sack. In the end, the defense won the game 33-19, something that hasn’t occurred in recent history.
Cavenas said the team simplified the defensive scheme a bit and added some wrinkles from a few seasons ago to help improve the defense.
“We’re putting in some things that are definitely getting us better and better in condition, giving us the mentality to always be flying to the ball,” he said. “And I think that’s what helped us out here today in the spring game.”
Cavenas had three sacks and Kauffman had two on the day. For Kauffman, it was his first game since last year’s spring game after missing the whole 2015 season due to injury.
“We knew we improved so much (on defense),” Kauffman said. “Even if you look from the beginning of spring ball to now, we’ve improved tremendously. We knew we were going to put up a lot of points and get a lot of sacks out here.”
Kauffman said he thinks the team’s intensity has improved drastically from last season, saying the team is swarming to the ball even when players are far away from the field.
Cavenas said he thinks the team should be aiming for four or five sacks a game, putting a special focus on getting to the quarterback. Lehigh had just 25 sacks in 2015 and had an even lower total the year before.
He added the dynamic between the linebackers and defensive line and what reads they should be making is something the team plans on emphasizing to increase its sack total.
“If we’re not running to the ball after every single play, it counts as a lack of effort, and then we have to run after practice,” Cavenas said.
With head coach Andy Coen not at the game, defensive line coach Donnie Roberts filled in as acting head coach for the scrimmage. Even though the game didn’t feature full-on tackling, he said he was glad to see the defense play as well as it did.
“Defensively, we knew we had to make some improvements,” defensive line coach Donnie Roberts said. “We have a lot of guys that are returning and have some experience playing, so it was good to see them fly around.”