|Although Illinois College is
known for its pass-first offense, Kurt Frischman has gotten
accolades for his early play on defense.
Illinois College athletics photo
Illinois College's Garrett Campbell knows that it takes more than two games – not even nine games – to make a season. So the coach is not getting too exciting about a 2-0 start where his explosive offense has scored more than 40 points in each game.
"It's just two games," Campbell said with a hint of caution this week. "We have a long way to go if we want to win a conference title."
There's good reason for Campbell's caution. All Illinois College had to do was win its final game against Carroll, after compiling a 8-1 record, last year and it would have likely had been the Midwest Conference's representatives in the Division III playoffs based on the conference’s tiebreaker of quarters led.
The Blueboys found themselves down 28-0 at halftime on their way to a spirit-crushing 49-14 loss.
"Losing that final game last year did hurt our team," Campbell said. "You're in a position whether you do it or you don't and we didn't. We have to own that, be responsible for that and next year put yourself into a position where you can't leave it up to one game anymore."
Campbell said his players took the stunning loss to Carroll with them in the offseason and it is already paying off dividends this season in a 49-13 road win over Hanover and a 42-13 home victory in its conference opener against Grinnell.
"We use the word faith a lot in this program," Campbell said. "I think it comes down to working hard every day and having faith in each other. It's a matter of trusting ourselves, the techniques and doing the right things as we progress."
It's easy to lose sight of Illinois College's defensive accomplishments when the Blueboys offense is scoring more than 40 points a game, Campbell admitted. Defensive end Kurt Frischman leads the team with 12 tackles, nine them for losses.
"I've been happy with how they've played so far," Campbell said. "We have a talented group. Our defensive line had really led the way and Kurt is leading them. He's a very good player and when teams have to key an eye out on him, it frees up other kids with one on one opportunities and we have to take advantage of those."
Campbell said if there is one thing his defense has to do a better job of so far is getting takeaways.
"We've been doing a good job of not turning the ball over, we but we need create more turnovers on the defensive end."
Illinois College's pass-first offense starts with junior Michael Bates, who has thrown for a Peyton Manning-like nine touchdowns in two games against no interceptions, completing 39 of 66 passes for 557 yards (278.5 per game). When the Blueboys need running, Cecil Brimmage has proven he can carry the load, averaging 117.5 yards over Illinois College's first two games.
"Now, we are a pass-first team," Campbell said. "We do come in trying to establish the pass. We feel good in knowing if teams try to shut that down we're okay running the ball and feel darn good about it."
The offensive line, led by four-year starter Keith James, has given Illinois College the option of passing or running Campbell said.
"People want to give the other guys all the praise when it's the guys up front who are doing the bulk of the work," Campbell said. "Keith James is the best offensive lineman I've ever coached at the college level. I don't think he's given up a sack in four years. We've got Travis James at right tackle, Jessy Postelwait at right guard who played quite a bit for us last year and Chet Akers who played a lot us over the years.
"We're rotating two centers. Jordan Miller is our starter and he's alternative with Brody Pogue. They're both playing so well and we can't figure out who's playing better. The offensive line coach does a great job and they are an intelligent group there."
Campbell said Saturday's game against Ripon will give Illinois College is biggest challenge yet because of Ripon's triple option offense. He said Ripon has the ability to take huge chucks of time off the clock, limiting their offense and tiring out their defense.
"They have type of offense that can limit the number of offensive opportunities," Campbell said. "I know it's coach-speak to say our biggest game is our next one, but this game is going to be a real challenge for us."
Campbell said, though, that his team is hungry to win the Midwest Conference championship that eluded them last year. To win the MWC, that means overcoming the challenges Ripon will give them and not allowing the title to come down to the last game.