November 23, 2010

For winning defenses, challenge looms

By Adam Turer
for D3sports.com

Salisbury, an option team, fumbled seven times, two of them forced by Delaware Valley.
Photo by Jeffrey Levy, d3photography.com

Three of the nation’s top defenses survived round one by shutting down three of the nation’s most powerful offenses. Their reward? Try to do it again this week against an even more prolific offense.

Thomas More, Delaware Valley, and Montclair State won their first-round matchups by holding their respective opponents a collective 72.62 points below their per game scoring average.

The Saints shut down Washington and Lee’s fourth-ranked rushing attack and No. 23 scoring offense, holding the Generals 23 points and 127 yards below their season averages. Despite giving up 323 total yards, the Saints were able to make big plays and get off the field when they needed to most.

“Our defense made key plays when we had to, especially on third downs,” said Thomas More head coach and defensive coordinator Jim Hilvert.

Against a top-25 offense, a bend-not-break philosophy can be an effective defensive strategy. Delaware Valley shut down the nation’s second-ranked rushing team by forcing five Salisbury turnovers.

“We knew they were prone to turning the ball over, so we stressed the importance of gang tackling,” said head coach Jim Clements. “The turnovers were the key to our success.”

Hampden-Sydney entered the postseason averaging 35 points per game. Montclair State traveled to Farmville, Va., and held the Tigers to their lowest output since last season’s first-round playoff loss to Johns Hopkins. The Red Hawks knew they would give up yards, but focused on limiting big plays.

“Our approach was to not give up big chunks of yardage, not let them turn an 8-yard gain into a 40-yard gain,” said Montclair coach Rick Giancola.

While the Generals, Sea Gulls, and Tigers all entered the postseason expecting to put up big numbers, their first round opponents had something else in common. The Saints, Aggies, and Red Hawks each rank in the top 15 in scoring defense, holding opponents to less than 12 points per game. After shutting down high-powered offenses in round one, the winners face similar, but more imposing challenges in round two. Each team will once again need to rely on a huge effort from its defense to slow an opponent capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

“We always preach defense and kicking game,” said Giancola, whose team travels to Wesley on Saturday. “If they can give us a short field, it takes the pressure off of our offense.”

The Wolverines enter with the ninth-ranked offense, averaging 42.89 points per game. If the Red Hawks defense can go on the road for a second straight week and hold their host well below their scoring average, Montclair State will be in position to pull off a second straight upset.

“It usually comes down to who can put their will on the other side,” said Giancola. “You want to give yourself a chance to win late.”

John French
Defensive lineman John French and Thomas More kept the Washington and Lee offense in check.
Thomas More athletics photo

Thomas More faces another top-ten ground attack at Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Crusaders boast the third-ranked scoring offense in the country. The Saints hope to slow the Crusaders the way they were able to stifle the Generals. After defending their home field, the Saints now get to play the role of road underdog.

“We’re very excited to play a top-five team. We have nothing to lose,” said Hilvert. “We face another high-powered offense and we have to be able to stop the run.”

Playing keep-away proved an effective strategy in round one. A fresh and rested defense usually has the advantage over a frustrated offense. The Saints’ defense helped its offense to its best performance of the year. Thomas More rushed for more than 400 yards against the Generals, the first time they had done so in Hilvert’s tenure. The Saints ground game also kept the Generals offense on the sideline for long stretches. For the Aggies, it was their offense that helped their defense make quick work of Salisbury. Delaware Valley’s offense possessed the ball for 31 minutes, keeping the defense fresh and keeping Salisbury’s potent offense stewing on the sideline.

“You need offense, defense, and special teams working hand in hand to succeed in the postseason,” said Clements. “Sometimes your defense’s best friend is your offense.”

The Aggies hope that their offense wins the time of possession battle again this weekend and limits the opposing offense’s possessions. Delaware Valley travels to Alliance to take on a Mount Union team averaging over 40 points per game.

If Delaware Valley, Thomas More, or Montclair State wins on Saturday, it will be an upset. It will also most likely be the result of another tremendous defensive effort put forth against an offensive juggernaut. In the postseason, every possession, down, yard, and point become even more crucial.

“If you have a really good defense, it keeps you in the game,” said Hilvert. “Even if you fall behind, it’s usually not by much.”

Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
Video
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Millsaps at Belhaven
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Endicott at Framingham State
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
12:00 PM
Sewanee at Kenyon
1:00 PM
King's at Moravian
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Kean at Christopher Newport
1:00 PM
McDaniel at Catholic
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
Live Stats
1:00 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
Video Live Stats
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
1:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
Audio
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
The Apprentice School at Methodist
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
Audio
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
Live Stats
2:30 PM
Lawrence at Presentation
4:00 PM
UW-Platteville at George Fox
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
7:00 PM
Denison at Marietta
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
Live Stats
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats
7:30 PM
Hanover at Centre
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
8:30 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
Video
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
Audio
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Video Live Stats Audio
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
4:00 PM
UW-Platteville at George Fox
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
Live Stats
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats