September 26, 2013

Hobart back on the run

More news about: Hobart
Although he's pass blocking here, Ali Marpet helps anchor the run game from his left tackle position as well.
St. Thomas athletics photo by Greg Smith

When defenses line up against the Hobart offense, they know the Statesmen will run the ball. 

Knowing what's coming is the easy part. It's being unable to stop it that regularly frustrates and confounds opponents.

Hobart has traditionally boasted a strong running game under head coach Mike Cragg. But the team is off to a blistering pace this season, even by its lofty standards. The Statesmen have piled up 672 rushing yards on just 90 carries, which equates to nearly 7.5 yards per carry, in their two games. Hobart ranks eighth nationally with a 336 yards per game average, by far the highest total of any team with less than 100 total carries and at least two games played.

Of course, it's reasonable to assume these averages could fade back to the median as the season progresses, particularly as the Statesmen enter Liberty League play. But, don't assume it's a certainty. Hobart has the players and scheme to maintain one of the country's best consistently dominant ground games throughout the 2013 season.

Senior Steven Webb and sophomore Conner Hartigan, the team's top two running backs, have come flying out of the gate. Webb (357 yards, 5 TDs, 8.9 per carry) is the workhorse, but Hartigan (174 yards, 1 TD, 8.3 per carry) has come back from a torn ACL to provide a quality second option.

In Webb, the Statesmen have an experienced leader and athletic freak. The 5-8, 190-pound Webb, a former track star, has started since his freshman season and will finish his career among the program's all-time rushing leaders.

"He'll go down as one of our best all-time, especially athletically," longtime offensive coordinator Kevin DeWall said.

Hartigan, at 5-10, 195 pounds, doesn't have the same raw speed as Webb, but is powerful and can still out-run defenders, as evidenced by his 89-yard touchdown run in Hobart's 34-21 win against Utica Saturday night.

The third -- and most unsung -- key contributor in the backfield is junior fullback Dom Ellis. Ellis excels as a lead blocker, but has displayed better-than-expected running ability, rushing for 55 and 51 yards in Hobart's two wins, respectively.

"All three of those guys at any time could be more featured guys, if we needed them to be," DeWall said.

The offensive line is anchored by junior left tackle Ali Marpet, a D3football.com second-team All-East region selection in 2012. Marpet is Hobart's most skilled lineman, but the team is stocked with other experienced players. 

Senior left guard Alex Bush has stepped into a full-time starting role this year after rotating time a year ago. Senior center Mike Green, a returner starter, is a bit undersized but intelligent. Green makes most of the pre-snap calls from the interior of the line.

Junior right guard DeAndre Smith also started last season. At 6-3 and 320 pounds, Smith is Hobart's most physically imposing lineman. Senior right tackle Trevor Schutte is the lone starter on this year's line without any prior starting experience, but the early reviews on his play have been strong.

Steven Webb is No. 6 in Division III in rushing yards per game, despite having just 40 carries for the season.
Photo by Greg Searles, Hobart and William Smith

"We feel very comfortable running [to] either side," Cragg said.

Hobart implements a primarily zone-blocking scheme in its running game, but DeWall said the key to the team's success is to remain versatile. That means running everything from inside and outside zone runs, to power and toss plays. The blocking of the wide receivers and tight ends, which has been excellent through two games, is also critical. Eleven players contribute on Hobart's runs.

"We'll run about four or five different zone concepts, as well as about four or five different man concepts, man-gap schemes," DeWall said. "You see some teams that are just triple-option, some teams that are all just spread zone. I think one of the things that hopefully makes teams have to spend a little more time preparing for us is that we're [versatile]."

DeWall played under Cragg for the Statesmen and is now in his 11th season as the team's offensive coordinator. DeWall's dedication to film study and preparation is something of a legend among the players. "He does not sleep, I feel like," Webb said. "He's football all the time. I am not kidding you."

Under the guidance of DeWall and Cragg, Hobart has built a culture of unselfishness. DeWall said if, for example, Webb grinds out the majority of yards on a drive but needs a break in the red zone, he has no problem tapping his helmet to signal Hartigan on the sideline, and vice versa.

"He's the best teacher I've ever been around," Cragg said of DeWall. "He's terrific with the guys and they love playing for him."

Cragg has made a habit of converting many of his players into coaches, such as D3football.com third-team All-American Art Garvey. Garvey, a standout on last season's offensive line -- the only line in the country to block for two 1,000-yard rushers and a 2,000-yard passer -- stayed with the team this season as an offensive assistant.

Since Garvey works primarily with the line, it has allowed DeWall to devote more time to working with the offense's other groups. That's been particularly key as Hobart continues to bring along junior quarterback Pat Conlan, who will make just his third career start against Merchant Marine this Saturday.

DeWall and Cragg both said that, ideally, the team will move closer to a 50-50 split on offense -- through two games Hobart has 58 more rushing attempts than passing attempts. That figures to be the case, but to ask the obvious question, why fix something that isn't broken?

"It feels good to know that [we] run first, then pass, as a running back," Webb said.

Webb can expect to see plenty of carries as the season pushes forward. Hartigan and Ellis, too. Hobart is just too good at running the ball to stop doing it, and opponents know it.

"At the end of the day, I'm never going to turn down a strong running game," DeWall said.

Cortland State's quarterback depth

Junior quarterback Tyler Hughes rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the Red Dragons' 26-15 win over William Paterson on Saturday. With that performance, Hughes became the first Cortland QB to eclipse the 200-yard mark, and just the 11th player ever in program history.

The scary part for the rest of the NJAC? He didn't even enter this season as the starter. That nod went to classmate Tyler Augliano.

Augliano, who didn't play against William Paterson (because of injury, according to a centralny.ynn.com report), threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns in the Red Dragons' 41-28 loss to Buffalo State in the season opener. With that performance, Augliano became just the third player in school history to reach the 400-yard mark.

So in consecutive games, Cortland has had two quarterbacks reach different program benchmarks. The question moving forward, obviously, is who remains under center.

Hughes, while dynamic in the running game, struggled throwing the ball against William Paterson. He finished just 7-of-20 for 62 yards. Augliano, on the other hand, excelled in throwing the ball, but never ran for more than three yards on any carry. These are clearly two different quarterbacks with different styles, but both have shown -- albeit, in a small sample size -- that they can be successful. This is a good problem for Cortland to have moving forward.  

Alfred wakes up its running game

The Saxons didn't exactly hide their offensive strategy coming into this season. They wanted to run the ball early and often.

That's why it was a bit surprising to see Alfred manage just 102 yards on 30 carries in a season-opening loss to RPI at home. Fast forward one week, and things seem more in line. The Saxons, led by senior Austin Dwyer, piled up 190 yards on 48 carries en route to a 33-10 win over Montclair State.

Dwyer finished with 118 yards and two TDs on 20 carries, while senior Tyler DeRosa added 74 yards on 16 carries. This is the kind of weekly production coach Dave Murray envisioned for his talented backfield, which also includes sophomore Maleke Fuentes occasionally.

Fuentes, while listed at receiver, is one of the more uniquely talented players in the region. Though he was largely held in check by Montclair State, Fuentes saw time out of the backfield, at receiver, and as both a kick and punt returner.

The Saxons are starting Dom Scavo, a true freshman, at quarterback this season, so a strong running game is crucial in his development. It's only two weeks in and, though the results have been mixed, the performance against Montclair State would suggest the ground game is trending upward.

Widener defense pitches shutout

Last season, Widener boasted one of the country's top quarterback-wideout combinations in Chris Haupt and Anthony Davis. The Pride outscored its opponents 550-248 en route to an 11-1 season and NCAA tournament appearance.

But this year's team has a decidedly different feel to it. Davis, now a junior, remains one of the most dangerous weapons in Division III, but Haupt is gone. In his place is freshman Seth Klein, who, despite throwing three interceptions against Wilkes, has looked solid early on. Klein is completing just under 77 percent of his passes, and was virtually unstoppable in a 40-for-51, 392-yard performance against Lebanon Valley in Week 2.

Widener, under new coach Bobby Acosta, has looked  particularly strong on defense. Through three games, the Pride has 13 sacks, four interceptions, four recovered fumbles and a blocked kick. Widener held Wilkes to just 165 total yards of offense in a 21-0 shutout win on Saturday.

With an offense still finding its way, the defense has been key for Widener.

Quick hits

Jerome Johnson rushed for a pair of touchdowns, Jeremy Keith collected four sacks and Andre Carter intercepted a pair of passes in Salisbury's 28-10 win against N.C. Wesleyan. J.D. Hook rushed for 65 yards and a TD in the win, the Sea Gulls' first of the season. ... Brandon Snyder kicked a 25-yard field goal as time expired to lift Delaware Valley to a 20-17 win over Albright. Kyle Schuberth rushed for 148 yards and a score for DelVal, while Ty Hughes ran for 144 yards and two TDs for Albright. ... Casey Kacz tossed a two-yard TD pass to Mike Doherty, but Buffalo State was overwhelmed by UW-Whitewater, 55-14, in the teams' second meeting in as many seasons. ... Danny Macalena finished with two of Springfield's eight sacks in the team's 41-0 win over Mount Ida, its second straight shutout. Jonathan Marrero rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns in the lopsided victory. ... Jake Santora finished with 14 tackles and a sack in Ithaca's 17-3 win over Union. Through two games, Ithaca has allowed just 10 total points. Rakim Jones scored both TDs on the ground for the Bombers. ... Hank Limardo returned a first-quarter interception 50 yards for a score and Kean never looked back in its 24-17 win against Endicott. ... Jeff Avery threw a pair of TD passes and RPI's defense held Castleton State to -42 rushing yards in a 23-8 victory. The Engineers improved to 3-0 under first-year coach Ralph Isernia. ... Ken Emmons passed for 286 yards and three TDs, Mike Fourth rushed for 185 yards, and Isaac Robinson kicked the go-ahead field goal with three seconds remaining to give Frostburg State a 36-33 win against Case Western Reserve. ... Craig Needhammer rushed for 182 yards and three touchdowns and Tyler Jenny tossed a pair of TD passes to Matt Atkinson in Lycoming's 52-14 rout of Misericordia. ... Cristian Pena and Lemar Johnson rushed for 163 and 126 yards, respectively, as Morrisville State upended St. Lawrence 28-23, giving first-year coach Curt Fitzpatrick his first career win. ... Brian Murphy passed for 258 yards and four TDs and Frank Gaffney piled up 10 tackles and three sacks in Lebanon Valley's 38-17 victory over King's. ... Kurtis Ahart rushed for 128 yards and three TDs and John Garcia threw touchdown passes to three different receivers as Hartwick rolled past Becker, 45-19. ... Matt McDaniels rushed for 127 yards and threw a 25-yard pass to Matt Berglund for the game's only touchdown in Merchant Marine's 7-6 win over SUNY-Maritime. ... Trey Lee collected 206 yards and four TDs on the ground, while John Gasparovic threw two TD passes to Chris Cooper in Stevenson's 55-22 win against FDU-Florham. 

Top 25: Hobart up to No. 7

Hobart rose one spot to No. 7 in this week's D3football.com Top 25 poll.

St. John Fisher and Widener held steady at No. 18 and No. 24, respectively, while Delaware Valley dropped one rank to No. 22.

Salisbury, Cortland State and Springfield each received votes.

Looking ahead

Stevenson (3-0, 2-0) at No. 22 Delaware Valley (3-0, 2-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Through three weeks of play, DelVal and Stevenson are the two remaining undefeated teams in the MAC. Surely we all saw this coming, right? False. But, if Stevenson wins this road game, we could be looking at the most unlikely conference leader in the country.

Lycoming (2-1, 2-0) at No. 24 Widener (2-1, 2-0), 1 p.m., Saturday: Here's another key MAC matchup. These two teams, like Stevenson and Delaware Valley, are unbeaten in conference play. Widener pulled out a 28-23 win last season, and this year's game again figures to be close.

Cortland State (1-1) at No. 18 St. John Fisher (2-0), 4 p.m., Saturday: St. John Fisher has done nothing through its first two games to suggest it won't push for a playoff spot. Cortland State, on the other hand, has been a bit more difficult to figure out. This will be a tough test for the visiting Red Dragons, but could end up being a competitive game.

Other games of note: Ithaca (2-0, 0-0) at Buffalo State (2-1, 0-0), noon, Saturday; Hobart (2-0, 0-0) at Merchant Marine (3-0, 0-0), 2 p.m., Saturday; Alfred (1-1) at Brockport State (1-1), 6 p.m., Saturday.

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is an associate news editor for ESPN.com and a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has contributed freelance work to ESPN Rise and has been a regular contributor to D3football.com since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing. A native of Hyde Park, N.Y., Andrew currently resides in New Britain. 

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov 

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