/playoffs/2012/Widener-Salisbury-offenses-are-handful

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 Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
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Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
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at Dean 25, Becker 10
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Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
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MIT 38, at Catholic 21
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Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
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at Hobart 34, Endicott 17
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at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
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at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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at Albright 9, Widener 7
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Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
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at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
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Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
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Williams 24, at Colby 7
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Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
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Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
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Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
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at LaGrange 38, Brevard 28
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Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
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at Plymouth State 37, Mass-Dartmouth 7
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Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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Union 17, at Curry 14
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at Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17
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Lycoming 44, at King's 41
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at Western New England 21, Husson 14
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Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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at DePauw 51, Wooster 24
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at Ohio Wesleyan 37, Allegheny 21
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at Misericordia 43, Wilkes 14
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at N.C. Wesleyan 35, Maryville (Tenn.) 25
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Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
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at McDaniel 27, Gettysburg 20
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at Buffalo State 33, RPI 21
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Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
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at Denison 45, Oberlin 17
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
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at Eureka 44, Crown 20
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at Lebanon Valley 24, FDU-Florham 14
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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at Rose-Hulman 37, Defiance 14
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at Marietta 49, Muskingum 25
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Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
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at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
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Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
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Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
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Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
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at Fitchburg State 31, Bridgewater State 29
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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at Millsaps 17, Sewanee 13
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at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
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at Hendrix 36, Austin 24
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at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
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Final - OT
at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
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at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
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at Wartburg 30, Washington U. 20
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Final
at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
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Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
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at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
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at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
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at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
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Final
Simpson 38, at Coe 33
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Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
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at Knox 13, Ripon 6
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at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
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Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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Final
at Springfield 42, WPI 10
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Final
at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
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at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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Final
at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
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Final
at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
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Final
at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
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Final
at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
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at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
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Final
at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
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Final - OT
at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
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Final
at Averett 35, Methodist 6
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at Berry 28, Centre 14
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Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Grove City 24, St. Vincent 14
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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Final
Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
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Final
Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
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at Sul Ross State 35, McMurry 7
Final - OT
at Wilmington 37, Capital 30
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Final
Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
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at East Texas Baptist 79, Belhaven 40
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Final
Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
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Sep. 28: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Shenandoah at Randolph-Macon
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Sep. 29: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Delaware Valley at FDU-Florham
Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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Sep. 29: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Delaware Valley at FDU-Florham