By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Members of Elon’s defense will have a chance to show how far they’ve come during their home opener Saturday night.
“The positive energy will continue to carry on,” safety Marcus Hillman said. “We need juice. We need energy. The goal is to have a few more (shutouts) in the season.”
Elon’s 26-0 blanking of Wofford last week could help set the tone. The key will be building on that.
“You come off of a game like that with some confidence,” head coach Tony Trisciani said.
“Our defense right now, we’re flying high. For us to go out there and tackle better than we did against Vanderbilt and clean up some of the explosives that we gave up against Vanderbilt, that was really good for our guys to take that step as a defense and validate everything they’ve been doing.”
Hillman, a fifth-year senior with a hybrid role that often allows him to rush the quarterback, logged a team-leading nine tackles, including three tackles for loss. He was credited with 1½ sacks.
Hillman said defensive coordinator Dovonte Edwards demands high energy. That should be on display when the Phoenix (1-1) tangles with Gardner-Webb (1-1) at Rhodes Stadium.
“Even more so than past years, we’re coming together,” Hillman said.
There’s room for improvement
“It wasn’t that we were perfect,” said Trisciani, a former defensive coordinator. “Any mistakes we made, we made up for it with speed and with violence. It was a great performance and a great step for us.”
Wofford never threatened to score. It helped that Elon had four sacks and Cole Coleman had an interception, while the Phoenix offense didn’t commit a turnover. Then there was punter Jeff Yurk, who was named the Special Teams Player of the Week in the Colonial Athletic Conference after averaging 44 yards on five punts.
“That’s what you hope for, put the defense in the best position possible and let them do their job,” Yurk said. “I didn’t really think that we expected to get that big old goose egg on the scoreboard.”
Three times, Yurk pinned the Terriers inside their 15-yard line.
“That helps when you can make them go to work on a long field,” Trisciani said.
During Wofford’s final two possessions, Elon’s defense used substantial substitutions. The message to the reserves: “You’ve got to play to the standard,” Trisciani said.
When Gardner-Webb shows up, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will certainly have Elon’s attention. A February 2021 loss at Gardner-Webb by a 42-20 score marked the most points allowed by Elon to a team currently in the Football Championship Subdivision since 2016.
Western Alamance alum Kendall McCoy, a redshirt freshman, is a reserve quarterback for Gardner-Webb.