GoHeels Spotlight: Norkeithus Otis
Then his fellow junior bandit Norkeithus Otis walked in and sat down, but he received very little attention.
While Lipford certainly made his share of impressive plays on the field, Otis quietly had himself a nice game. He finished with five tackles, a forced fumble and two sacks.
Not bad for a guy who had three tackles, one sack and a forced fumble all of last year.
"Norkeithus played great to me," Lipford said. "He's a hard worker and works hard all the time. I love feeding off his energy. We feed off of each other and Travis Hughes and try to play with intensity the whole game."
Otis has already shown significant improvement from last year. Against South Carolina, he had five tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and two quarterback hurries.
When asked about his performance today, Otis took the humble route.
"There's some things I still need to work on, being able to set the edge better, being able to get off blocks more, but other than that I think I did OK," Otis said.
In the second quarter, Middle Tennessee State faced a third and 12 on their 42-yard line. Last year, the bandit might not have made much of an impact on that play, but this time, Otis made his presence felt. He fought through blocks, even losing his helmet in the process, to sack quarterback Logan Kilgore and force a punt.
"He's got a high motor," senior defensive end Kareem Martin said. "That's why he's so good. He's not the biggest defensive lineman, but he's a lot faster than any guy who's going to be blocking him. He's just relentless."
Otis said he knows the bandits need to step up more this year. Previous bandits who have come through assistant head coach for defense Vic Koenning's 4-2-5 system include NFL stars DeMarcus Ware and Whitney Mercilus, so there are high expectations for the position.
"We're the bandits, so we hold a lot of responsibility on the defense," Otis said. "We've got to be able to get them up when they're down. We've got to make plays when plays need to be made."
It's important to note that both Otis and Lipford are playing well, not just one of them. Shakeel Rashad's season-ending knee injury means both of them will be instrumental to seeing defensive improvements.
"The bandit position is going to be a vital key to our defensive success," Lipford said. "We have a lot of schemes based around it, and just our position in general opens up a lot more opportunities, and we can create a lot more havoc."
Martin said Lipford and Otis need to make the most of their opportunities.
"Last year, we didn't take advantage of those opportunities," Martin said. "We didn't have much production out of the bandit, but this year, with those guys making a lot of big plays, it's making the defense that much better."
One of the ways Koenning is trying to take advantage of the skillsets of Otis and Lipford is a new "money" package with both bandits on the field at the same time.
"It gives us opportunities to get some mismatches with the front because they're not really sure what we are going to do," Lipford said.
Otis said the "money" package is his favorite because of the playmaking possibilities.
"Something has to happen," Otis said. "(Graduate assistant coach Tommy Richardson) told us, 'You got two bandits in on the 'money' package--something has to happen. One of you guys has to make a play.' (We) love that challenge."
Although Otis hasn't had a ton of experience, he's played well so far this season, and his continued improvement and production, along with Lipford, will bode well for the defense as it continues to gel.