It you don't closely follow the UNT Mean Green, or at least the Sun Belt Conference you may not know the name Tobe Nwigwe.
NFL scouts see him as one of the few players on the UNT roster that has flashed NFL talent.
Hardcore Sun Belt Conference fans recognize him as a second team all-conference linebacker, and UNT's best defensive player.
UNT Fans know him best of all. We see him as our best player on either side of the ball. The senior linebacker is the only player on the defensive side who consistently steps up and makes plays.
We see him as the heart of our defense, if not the heart of our team.
A foot injury that will require surgery has tragically ended his collegiate career.
Tragic seems a word not strong enough to describe this unjust situation.
Nwigwe almost fell off the team earlier in his career and worked hard to get his career back on track. In return, he got to serve as the road spike on the nation's worst defense last year, and did not get a chance to see his teammates rally around him for the big turnaround with the defense that we all hoped for this year before the injury ended his career.
It is a very sad end to the career of someone who deserved a lot better.
What lies ahead for UNT's Defense
In a worst case scenario, last week's performance shows what the rest of the season COULD be like.
UNT's defense was pushed up and down the field by a good, but not great offense, yielding a season high 50 points. Series after series the UNT defense proved incapable of making the big play to stop a drive.
Troy scored on eight of their first 10 drives and took a ninth drive 78 yards to the UNT one yard line. The UNT defense was only able to generate a single three and out in Troy's first 10 drives.
All season long the defense has seemingly held its breath waiting for Nwigwe to make plays. Against Troy, without Nwigwe, none of the starters made any plays.
If that level of production continues, this team is certain to finish the year with two, or possibly only one win.
Who will take Nwigwe's place?
Junior AJ Penson is slated to start again this week. He was thrown into the fire last week versus Troy.
Penson started at OLB last season, but was a bad fit. That I have seen, his strength as a linebacker is his ability to diagnose run plays. In space as an OLB he was a bit lost.
The coaching staff proclaimed a lot of love for Penson at the start of the season saying that he was pushing Nwigwe for the starting MLB job.
I think most UNT fans wrote that off as a lot of hot air designed to spur Nwigwe to more fully tap his talent.
Nwigwe was a physical stud at 240 pounds, with the speed and instincts to cover. Penson is a smaller player than Nwigwe at 225 pounds, and not nearly the athlete, but he does have some positives.
He's works hard on the field. He reads running plays well, and while his is not as adept at overpowering blockers to make the play, he is generally in the right place to make a play. He may in fact be there more often than Nwigwe due to the fact that he doesn't have superior athleticism. What I saw of him prior to the season, I think he may end up being a more disciplined run stuffer.
With Nwigwe, UNT might give up 10 yards on a running plays followed by stops for no gain. With Penson you might not see as many stops for no gain, but you might see fewer 10 yard gains. You might see a whole lot of three-to-five yard gains on running plays, as we saw versus Troy.
If UNT is going to go with Penson, the upperclassmen around him need to step up and make plays. (Much like they should have been doing all year starting next to Nwigwe, but it would be much, much more necessary now.)
Guys like JR. LB Craig Robertson, SR. LB Kylie Hill, Soph. CB Royce Hill, SR. CB Antoine Bush, SR. CB Adryan Adams, and JR. S Ira Smith need to take up the mantle of leadership and kick up their level of play. These guys, specifically, need to start generating some turnovers.
I called these guys out in the past, and I will probably call them out in the future if they don't start producing. These guys have the talent to make plays. Being a good player means that you apply that talent.
That a former all-conference player like Robertson has produced so few big plays is especially disappointing.
Do not be at all surprised to see some young guys on the field this week before garbage time.
I almost expect to see Daniel Prior on the feild at MLB on passing downs. He was very highly coveted prospect who had shown some talent versus the pass, and at last report Defensive coordinator DeLoach had made him his whipping boy to try and tap his talent.
Frankly, I would love to see more playing time for DE Tevinn Cantly and OLB Jeremy Phillips. I think Cantly could emerge with extended PT. Phillips probably needs less time to make his presence felt. I am very high on this kid.
John Shorter may have earned some more PT this week. I hope so. It is always good to have some fire in the secondary.
I would love to see a lot more of JR CB Robbie Gordon if our CBs continue to not make plays. He's raw, but a real gamer. I like this kid a lot.
Despite all the potential out there, it is a sad day for Mean Green fans.