November 20, 2012

Widener and Salisbury keep defensive coordinators up at night

More news about: Salisbury | Widener
Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is Widener's leading receiver, although the Pride have seven receivers with 20 or more catches.
Widener athletics photo 

By Adam Turer
D3sports.com

If you've ever questioned why football coaching is one of the most sleep-deprived professions, look no further than the offenses at Widener and Salisbury. These potent attacks will keep defensive coordinators burning the midnight oil, attempting to devise a scheme to slow them down. Plus, staying awake is often better than having nightmares.

"I go to church a lot during the week," jokes Salisbury defensive coordinator Robb Disbennett when asked how he planned to slow the nation's No. 2 scoring offense on Saturday.

The Sea Gulls will have their hands full with Chris Haupt and the Pride offense, which averages 50.5 points per game, second only to No. 1 Mount Union. Widener looked vulnerable for a half in its 44-14 opening round win over Bridgewater State, before reeling off 37 second-half points. No defense has solved the Widener offense in 2012, a major reason why the Pride is one of seven undefeated teams left in the playoffs.

"You have to be able to match their tempo," said Lycoming coach Mike Clark, whose team held Widener to its lowest output of the season in a 28-23 loss on October 20. "They're good at what they do and they go fast. They kind of play basketball on grass."

The Pride likes to run screens and quick passes, but can also beat you with the run. When you try to bottle up the offense near the line of scrimmage, wide receiver Anthony Davis will beat you deep. If you think you can disrupt Haupt in the pocket, good luck: the Pride offensive line allowed just four sacks all season.

"They do a great job offensively with their rhythm and timing getting rid of the football," said Lebanon Valley coach Jim Monos, whose team took Widener to overtime before falling, 40-37, on September 29. "They go in spurts and get momentum."

Salisbury's defense — led by lineman Nick Ochoa, linebackers Steven Gamble and Matt McCurdo, and defensive backs Greg Stanton and Andre Carter — will have its hands full trying to stop a Widener offense that put up 90 points in a game earlier this season. Disbennett has spent practice sessions this week running two scout team offenses against his defense in an attempt simulate Widener's speed.

"I don't know that we can replicate it in practice," said Disbennett, whose unit ranks ninth in the nation in scoring defense and 15th in total defense. "There will be a learning curve on Saturday."

Joe Benedetti has rushed for 1,126 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and is one of three Salisbury rushers with more than 500 yards.
Salisbury athletics photo

The defense on the other side is not resting any easier this week. Widener has to prepare for Salisbury's option-based attack, which ranks sixth in the nation in rushing offense. Joe Benedetti leads the Sea Gulls in rushing, but the point man of the offense is quarterback Dan Griffin. Like Widener, Salisbury likes to dictate the game's tempo with its offense.

"It takes a few series to get accustomed to the speed that they run their triple option at," said North Carolina Wesleyan cornerback Dwayne Hollis, whose team gave up 69 points to the Sea Gulls on Sept. 15. "The hardest thing is just playing your position. You have to be a pretty disciplined team. If you're not disciplined, it's going to be a long day."

Unlike the Empire 8, there are no triple-option offenses in the MAC. This will be the first time all year that Widener has prepared for anything like Salisbury's offense and its "superbacks."

"They do what they do and they're very good at it," said Widener coach Isaac Collins. "Our defense has to match their consistency. Any time you face a triple option, the key is to not give up the big play."

Collins does have some experience preparing for the triple option. In his previous stop, as defensive coordinator at The Citadel, Collins had to prepare for Wofford's triple option. Collins will look at some of his old notes, but realizes that they won't make too much of a difference come Saturday.

"Football's football," said the third-year head coach. "It comes down to reads and playing fundamentally sound."

The Pride defense ranks fourth nationally in sacks and 11th in tackles for loss, all while playing almost exclusively in a base defense. The front seven has been able to disrupt opposing backfields without blitzing. That tenacity and gap discipline will be put to the test on Saturday.

"The way our defense is structured, I think we can stop the run," said defensive end Chad Gravinese. "The key is not overdoing the play and everyone doing their job."

While Haupt and the offense have put up staggering numbers, the Pride defense has quietly had a good season. Only Lebanon Valley and Albright scored more than 23 points against Widener this year. On the other side, Salisbury's defense is a well-known entity, holding opponents to single digits in six games. It allowed no more than 23 points in any game this year -- those 23 coming in a 40-point win over Utica.

"I like how we fly under the radar as a unit," said Gravinese. "Practicing against our offense definitely helps us and prepares us to take over games late."

One key to Widener's success on defense this year has been its depth. With the offense striking so quickly, the defense has avoided fatigue by rotating two players at every position throughout each game.

"That formula has really benefited us," said Collins. "It has helped us stay healthy and it's really helped our defense play better down the stretch."

Forget the prolific offenses. It doesn't matter that Widener was held to seven first half points in Round 1, or that Salisbury scored just 17 in its opening-round win over Rowan. Each defense pays little attention to how many points its own offense is putting on the board.

"We never go into a game thinking that our offense will score," said Disbennett. "We have to take care of what we do defensively."

Saturday should be a reminder for each defensive player of why they grind through conditioning drills in August and run sprints in the spring. It's going to be a long day that will test both the physical and mental toughness of each defense. As well as each defense may play, the game may come down to who gets the last stop.

"You've got to score points to beat them," said Clark of Widener. The same can be applied to Salisbury. "They're going to get their points on just about anybody."

Two defenses on Saturday will try to reverse that trend. The unit that succeeds will be playing football in December.

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Bridgewater State 34, Fitchburg State 25
Box Score
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
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Final
at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
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Final
at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
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MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
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at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
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at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
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Final
St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
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Final
at Framingham State 23, Western Connecticut 17
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at Montclair State 21, Rowan 14
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at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
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Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Bates 7
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Final
at Western New England 59, Curry 28
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at Utica 24, Cortland 13
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Final
Colby 9, at Williams 7
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Final
at Middlebury 40, Bowdoin 3
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at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
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Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
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Final
at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
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Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
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at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
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Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
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Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
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at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
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at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
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at Springfield 28, WPI 23
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at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
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Final
at Denison 45, Wooster 7
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at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
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at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
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at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
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Final
at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
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at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
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at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
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at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
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at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
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Final
at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
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at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
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Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
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Final
Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
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at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
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Rose-Hulman 23, at Defiance 15
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at Centre 49, Chicago 27
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at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
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Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
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Final
at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
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Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score Recap
Final
Concordia-Chicago 42, at Maranatha Baptist 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Washington U. 36, at Birmingham-Southern 21
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Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
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Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 38, Martin Luther 20
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at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
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at Westminster (Mo.) 35, Greenville 14
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Dubuque 30, at Luther 17
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Monmouth 52, at Lake Forest 6
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Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
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Final
at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
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Final
Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
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Final
at Hamline 42, Gustavus Adolphus 40
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Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
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Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
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Final
at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
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Final
Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
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at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
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Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
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at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
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Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
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Final
at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
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Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
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Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
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at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
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at Ripon 33, Knox 19
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Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
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UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
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Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
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UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
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Final
UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
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Final
UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
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Final
at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
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Final
Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
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Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
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Final
at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
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Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
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Final
at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
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Final
at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
Cancelled
Langston at McMurry
Video Live Stats
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Chapman 19, Trinity (Texas) 17
Box Score Recap
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score Recap
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap