At the Towson football team's practice Wednesday, defensive coordinator Matt Hachmann, defensive line coach Konstantinos Kosmakos and safeties coach Joe Tricario took turns chewing out members of the defense for a variety of mistakes ranging from incorrect alignments to miscommunication to lack of effort.
The tongue lashings came on the heels of the unit's best performance of the season in Saturday's 21-14 victory at Colonial Athletic Association foe Stony Brook, but junior nose tackle Max Tejada said the players don't mind the coaches' outbursts.
"When they're doing that, we know it's because they know we can do better, and we need that," he said. "We need to be giving our best at all times. If we need to get yelled at or whatever, it needs to be done. If we do our best during the week, our best will definitely come out on Saturday."
The Tigers (3-3 overall, 1-2 CAA) will try to produce an encore when Villanova (3-3, 2-1), No. 23 in the Football Championship Subdivision, visits Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m.
After surrendering 14 points in the first quarter to the Seawolves, the defense shut out Stony Brook for the final three periods, recorded 13 tackles for loss and four sacks, and returned a fumble 65 yards for the team's first score in the second quarter.
"Some of the best defense that I've seen us play in a while," Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. "You can go back and check my quotes. I said if we do this the right way, we have a chance to play some pretty good defense this year. Right now, that's exactly what we're doing."
Through six games, the Tigers rank second in the conference against the run and fourth in total yards. The defense is tied for fourth in the league in sacks despite the graduation of 2014 sack leader and current Carolina Panthers defensive end Ryan Delaire.
The numbers are nice, but Hachmann is looking for a string of solid performances.
"It's what we anticipated," he said. "The thing we've struggled to get at this point is consistency. We've played very well at times, and we've played inconsistently at times. Stony Brook was probably our most consistent effort. The kids prepared hard, they worked really hard toward it, and they did a good job of seeing it all the way through."
Towson has had to play without redshirt junior outside linebacker Bryton Barr and redshirt sophomore inside linebacker James Simms (Reservoir). Barr, a starter as a freshman in 2012, tore the ACL in his left knee in August, and Simms, the team's leading tackler last fall, has been sidelined since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 25.
And the coaches are not afraid to shake things up. They replaced four starters with three true freshmen and one redshirt freshman against the Seawolves.
The defense switched from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 scheme to take advantage of the team's talent and depth at linebacker, and redshirt junior outside linebacker Jordan Mynatt said the change has helped the Tigers contain opponents' rushing attacks.
"It definitely shuts down the run more because we have outside edges and we can force it all back to the interior guys," the Columbia resident and Wilde Lake graduate said. "But it helps with the pass, too. It's a win-win for us because we've got outside guys that can cover and inside guys that can get to the ball and defensive linemen that can put pressure on the quarterback. And the cornerbacks and safeties are doing their jobs."
In Villanova, Towson won't face redshirt senior quarterback and 2014 Walter Payton Award winner John Robertson, who tore the PCL in his right knee in a 28-21 win against Delaware on Sept. 19.
But redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Bednarczyk earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors after completing all 12 of his passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns, and junior running back Javon White rushed for 124 yards and one score in the Wildcats' 37-0 shutout shutout at Albany a week ago.
"We're approaching it with the same mentality," Hachmann said. "This is a very good Villanova offense. They've got very good skill all over the place. They graduated the running back [Kevin Monangai, who rushed for 1,138 yards and 12 touchdowns] and John's not in there, but the guys who are playing for them are doing well."
Wildcats coach Andy Talley said the Tigers pose a stiff challenge.
"Their defensive pass rush is tremendous," he said. "They are very, very physical — I think as physical a defense as there is in the league. And I think they really are on the rise right now. It was a good win for them last week, and I think they're as good as anybody in our league right now. So it's a huge test for us."