USD’s defense has transformed into a strength under Johansen’s watch


VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — Travis Johansen took over as the University of South Dakota’s Defensive Coordinator in 2019, tasked with improving a unit that ranked near the bottom of the Missouri Valley in most defensive statistics. In Johansen’s third year at the helm, the Coyotes haven’t just transformed into one of the better units in the conference, but in the entire country.

In Travis Johansen’s first season in Vermillion, USD’s defense gave up more than 32 points per game. Last spring, the Coyotes showed progress, trimming that average down to 24.

“In the spring, really helped us I guess fine tune some stuff and learn a little bit from those mistakes that we made, where it didn’t really cost you. Getting everybody back, learning from those, it was a blessing,” Defensive Coordinator Travis Johansen said.

But still they felt they had more to offer.

“We feel like we put some good stuff on tape, played some good games, but we never really played four quarters the way we wanted to. So it was just a matter of improving on that consistency,” Senior Linebacker Jack Cochrane said.

Consistency has been exactly what the unit has shown this fall. They’ve held opponents to less than 18 points per game this year, which ranks 12th nationally and they’ve only given up more than 21 points just once all season.

“Our guys know what they’re capable of. They understand it way more, which gives them confidence you know. Really, when you don’t perform well you understand it’s more about how you did versus what that team did to you,” Johansen said.

Johansen credits the entire defensive staff and the veteran leaders inside the Coyotes locker room for that growth.

“When we got here in ’19 there wasn’t a guy that could understand the defense. They can’t look and see a clear picture, oh that’s what it’s suppose to look like you know. Now you got some leaders out front that understand what we’re doing, can execute at a high level and those young guys sit back and see a visual picture, that’s what it looks like, that’s how you do it,” Johansen said.

The defense has played a major role in USD’s pursuit for a 2nd playoff bid, but just as they did following the spring, they feel they still have more to offer.

“Obviously the goal is to get a win every week. We feel like we’ve been preparing that way for a while. To see it start paying dividends has been awesome, but that being said we got a lot of work left here to do this fall,” Cochrane said.

USD closes the regular season at North Dakota State this Saturday, with a win over the Bison clinching a share of the Missouri Valley conference crown for the first time in program history.

USD’s game against NDSU will be Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT and at 1:30 p.m. MT.

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