MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis football won their third game in a row and their second straight at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium Saturday, coming away with a 44-34 win over North Texas.
On a day where the offense struggled at times, it was the defense’s turn to have a spectacular day. They thrived on turnovers and the energy that came with seeing a certain face on the sideline.
Entering Saturday’s game Ryan Silverfield challenged his defense to step up.
"I think you look at it and you say, 'well they threw for all those yards.' Look anybody not pleased with the defensive effort today, shame on them because it was awesome. It was phenomenal," Silverfield said.
North Texas had 473 yards and scored 34 points, but the Mean Green were held to just 102 rush yards, more than 100 under their average.
In the second half, the Memphis defense forced three turnovers, including two pick sixes. It was their ninth straight game with at least one forced turnover.
"I don’t want to make it seem like we got lucky. I want them to understand that’s who we really are," said Xavier Cullens, a linebacker. "We want to be one of the top defenses and I feel like turnovers, that’s the only way that we’re going to get to where we want to be at as a team."
The defense thrived on the turnovers and getting off the field. They forced North Texas to just 3-for-15 in third down conversions. It may have all stemmed from a coaching change. Defensive coordinator Matt Barnes left the booth and is now calling plays on the sideline.
"When we’re feeling sluggish he’s gonna crank us up," Cullens said.
The change is practical, it's easier for the defense to get calls and audibles by seeing Barnes directly, but it's Barnes' energy that is infectious.
"With Coach Barnes being on the sideline, at first he was up in the box, but then we won Navy I told him, “aye Coach Barnes, you staying down here now. There’s no more going up there. You bring the energy."
Barnes is in his first year as defensive coordinator after leaving Ohio State. Silverfield described him as a great football mind and someone who doesn't get too excited outside the white lines of a football field. Inside them, though, he's like a battery for the defense.
"I think it’s good for our players to see his passion and love and intelligence for the game. Him being down on the field with them is great. It resonates with our guys," Silverfield said.
If he can inspire more three turnover games expect Barnes to stay on the sideline.