For some players there comes a point where the game simply slows down for them. You hear instances when players get into the zone and everything just becomes crystal clear for them. It seems as though that is happening for senior cornerback D.J. Hayden over the last few weeks.
Hayden has three interceptions in the last two weeks, two of which he has returned for touchdowns and now has four on the year. In addition to that he is near the top of the leader board in most defensive statistical categories, especially the ones that are more specific to his position. He is near the top of the list in solo tackles with 33, he leads the team with seven pass break ups and 11 pass defenses and of course in interceptions. All of the numbers equate out to a good body of work but his dominance the last two weeks has been blatantly obvious and Hayden admits his approach has been a little different.
"I've been preparing more mentally," he said. "I've been taking a different approach mentally to the game so I think that has been helping me out with my focus and I have been able to react to stuff better."
"It's been a combination of a little more film work and really some more time to myself so I can focus more on what I need to do," he added.
As is the case when players standout on the field the play of those around them helps create those opportunities for them to shine and Hayden admits he has been get some help up front.
"We have really been trying to step it up," Hayden said of the defense. "We have all been preparing better as a unit and the pressure that Phillip (Steward) and D-Mat (Derrick Mathews) has been getting up front has helped a lot. All we want is for them to make the quarterback uncomfortable back there and to hit him any time they can and they have been doing a pretty good job of it."
With Hayden and the Cougars back even on the season again at 4-4 and still in control of their own destiny in Conference USA at 3-1 they must get back to work as they prepare for a tough road game with East Carolina Saturday. Houston has not won a game outside of Houston this season and they know they must fix that this weekend if they are going to stay in the driver seat in the West Division of Conference USA.
"We just have to continue to prepare right now," he said about moving past the win. "We need to study film and make sure we get out job done and stop their offense and get the ball back in our offense's hands as much as possible."
Hayden's performance in the team's win over UTEP last week earned him Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Hayden and the Cougars have a 11:00 AM kick-off time Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium against a stout East Carolina team looking to rebound from a tough out of conference loss to Navy last week.
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