/playoffs/2011/salisbury-kean-matchup

Defenses key for Salisbury, Kean

More news about: Kean | Salisbury
Freshman linebacker Matt Clerk had one of Kean's five interceptions on Saturday, returning it for a touchdown.
Kean athletics photo

By Brian Hunsicker
for D3sports.com

Watching Kean’s defense take on Salisbury’s powerful triple option attack will surely be one of the drawing cards of the matchup between the teams Saturday. But for fans of defense, the Sea Gulls’ unit should offer some interesting viewing as well.

Both teams run a base 3-4, and both are coming off strong defensive performances in the first round of the NCAA tournament – albeit in different ways. Kean forced six turnovers, five by interception, in a 34-10 win over Christopher Newport; Salisbury, meanwhile, limited Western New England to 2.5 yards per rush in a 62-24 win over the Golden Bears.

Salisbury showed it has ability at each level. When Western New England tried to run, the Sea Gulls had linebackers in position to make a tackle just beyond the line of scrimmage. And when they weren’t able to, Salisbury’s aggressive safeties stepped in and rarely gave up yards after contact. When the Golden Bears’ quarterbacks tried to pass, they often had little time to do so; defensive ends Matt Leon and Nick Ochoa and nose Tommy Hawks were consistently able to collapse the pockets from all angles.

Leon said after the game that Salisbury had switched to a 3-4 in 2010, and the change has been beneficial. The players were better able to understand and execute their assignments.

“It was a drastic change,” Leon said. “Everybody has a specialized role.”

“Every play, you know your job,” inside linebacker Matt McMurdo, who returned a fumble 18 yards for Salisbury’s fourth touchdown, said. “It works the way it’s supposed to work.”

Kean has capitalized on putting the necessary pieces into place. Coach Dan Garrett’s philosophy on building a defense begins up front with a road-grading nose guard who can eat up space in the middle. Next is an athletic strongside outside linebacker who is equally adept at pass coverage or pass rush, followed by a quick-reacting inside linebacker who can plug holes against the run. Lastly, two sure-tackling safeties serve as the backstop.

Freshman defensive lineman Nick Ochoa made a big interception to seal Salisbury's win against Ithaca earlier in the season.
Salisbury athletics photo

But skill isn’t the only requirement; intelligence is too.

“You can’t always get the best players,” Garrett said, “but you need smart, intelligent players.”

This year, though, Kean has the benefit of having some very good players that also fit the system. Lineman Ray Wegrzynek (third on the team in tackles for loss), linebacker Bekim Bujari (the Cougars’ leading tackler) and safety Jamahl Williams (second on the team with five pass breakups) are all seniors and all were named first-team all-NJAC. Garrett credits each of them with playing a crucial role in the success of the Cougars’ defense.

They’ve also gotten a surprise benefit from freshman linebacker Mike Clerk. Garrett said Clerk was unable to showcase his athleticism early in the season as he was still learning the system. But, near the midpoint of the season, Clerk got a spot start and opened the coaches’ eyes. Since then, he’s been the NJAC’s defensive rookie of the week three consecutive times.

Given the skill on both sides, it seems neither team will be likely to produce as many points as in their respective playoff openers. There should be plenty, however, to keep defensive-minded fans happy.

Nov. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Husson 23, at Springfield 21
Video Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Berry 34, Huntingdon 20
Video Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Delaware Valley 35, Western New England 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Brockport 66, Plymouth State 0
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Frostburg State 35, at Wittenberg 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Mount Union 21, Washington and Lee 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Wesley 45, RPI 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Washington and Jefferson 31, Johns Hopkins 28
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Trine 63, Monmouth 24
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Chapman 6
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Case Western Reserve 28, at Illinois Wesleyan 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Oshkosh 63, Lakeland 0
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at St. Thomas 47, Eureka 8
Video Photos Video Recap Photos Box Score
Final - OT
at Wartburg 35, Franklin 34
Video Preview Box Score Live stats Photos
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 17, St. John's 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Linfield 27, Hardin-Simmons 13
Box Score Photos
Nov. 25: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Wesley at Brockport
Video Preview Live stats Audio
12:00 PM
Case Western Reserve at Mount Union
Video Preview Preview Live stats Audio
12:00 PM
Frostburg State at Washington and Jefferson
Video Live stats Audio
12:00 PM
Husson at Delaware Valley
Video Live stats
1:00 PM
Berry at St. Thomas
Video Live stats Live stats Audio Audio
1:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at UW-Oshkosh
Video Live stats Live stats Audio
1:00 PM
Linfield at Mary Hardin-Baylor
1:00 PM
Trine at Wartburg
Video Live stats
Nov. 25: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Wesley at Brockport
Video Preview Live stats Audio
12:00 PM
Case Western Reserve at Mount Union
Video Preview Preview Live stats Audio
12:00 PM
Frostburg State at Washington and Jefferson
Video Live stats Audio
12:00 PM
Husson at Delaware Valley
Video Live stats
1:00 PM
Berry at St. Thomas
Video Live stats Live stats Audio Audio
1:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at UW-Oshkosh
Video Live stats Live stats Audio
1:00 PM
Linfield at Mary Hardin-Baylor
1:00 PM
Trine at Wartburg
Video Live stats