Coming off a tumultuous 5-8 season, Army sophomore defensive back Marquel Broughton says this year’s defensive unit at West Point noticed a “big change.”
The Black Knights’ coaching staff experienced a bit of a revamp. Nate Woody and several new coordinators were brought in this past off-season on the defensive side, tapped to improve the unit and help lead Army to victories.
Now, six weeks into the season, Woody and his staff’s presence is apparent, both on and off the field.
“We had a good, decent coaching staff last year... So, I don’t know what feels different,” Broughton said. “Last year, we had a little trouble with being bought-in, but this year, we are bought in to the coaching staff... They did a really good job of getting us to buy into what they’re teaching and what they’re preaching.”
Over the course of nine games, Broughton ended his 2019 rookie season with nine total tackles, six solo. Broughton came into 2020 with the mentality to capitalize off his first year.
Against Middle Tennessee State, he came away with five total tackles and a forced fumble. Fast forward to week six, he’s already doubled his plebe-year numbers, netting 25 total tackles — 16 of them solo.
Following Army’s win over Louisiana-Monroe, Broughton was named one of the five best safety’s in the country by Pro Football Focus, and received a 91.1 grade, the third-best in the country.
He says it was his brothers that helped inspire the change.
“(The) Army-Navy game last year, my teammates really flipped the switch on me and they challenged me in different ways,” Broughton said. “They challenged me to step up… I really can give this to my teammates, they were really pushing me to be the best I can.”
Without spring practice, the team was relegated to learning schemes via walk-throughs in summer camp, but Army has been determined to improve on defense, regardless of the obstacles presented by the pandemic.
“What has been a pleasant surprise is how well they’ve played with not having had any spring practice,” head coach Jeff Monken said of the defense earlier this week. “Really the first time for Coach Woody and the staff to kind of be able to implement this defense on the field was during those late summer walk-throughs that the NCAA approved just before camp started.”
Said senior linebacker Jon Rhattigan: “We weren’t going to waste any time trying to install a new defense… This is exactly what we want, is just to play hard. And so we weren’t gonna let a different type of preseason interrupt our ability to learn defense.”
The Black Knights defensive unit is currently ranked eighth in the nation in total defense, allowing their opponents to average just 275.8 yards per-game. Clearly, the Black Knights caught on to Woody’s teachings quickly.
“I think that’ll tell people a lot about how passionate we are here,” Rhattigan said.
Army also ranks in the top 20 in the country in third-down percentage defense (.327), defensive touchdowns (two), fumbles recovered (four), turnovers gained (eight), red-zone defense (.667) and rushing defense, allowing opponents to run for just 66.8 yards per-game.
The Black Knights’ offense has helped the defense out this year too, by keeping them off the field longer and keeping Army’s defenders fresh. Army is 11th in the country in time of possession this year, holding the ball for an average of about 33 minutes per-game.
A senior, this is Rhattigan’s first season starting, but he’s made quite an impact already with one interception, one touchdown and 28 tackles — four of them for a loss.
“I’m really excited for Jon and happy with the way he’s playing,” Monken said of Rhattigan. “He’s making a lot of plays, a lot of tackles. He’s very physical. He’s been a tremendous special teams guy for us in years past.”
You can't read a play any better than this. pic.twitter.com/kQcfYcwjrY— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 5, 2020
Rhattigan says this year’s focus is unlike anything else.
“I think the biggest thing is what this coaching staff has brought into the program, and they harp a lot on just being prepared, everybody knowing their assignment and just playing hard,” Rhattigan said. “It really allows us to make plays and play aggressive football. But you know, everyone’s been locked-in and our coaching staff demands a lot of us. And I think, I think that’s the biggest thing that has changed, is just how prepared we are.”
The season is still inching toward the halfway point, but Army is 3-1 on the season and is among the nation’s leaders in several defensive categories. Their lone touchdown in a loss to then-ranked No. 14 Cincinnati was a defensive one, and Army held the Bearcats to their lowest scoring total since last December. Across its three wins, Army is beating teams by an average score of 44-10.
The win over Abilene Christian revealed victories can sometimes be messy and this team still has mistakes to work through. But for now, Monken says he “couldn’t be more pleased” with what Woody and his staff are doing on the defensive side of the ball.