Defense Struggles, Football Falls to Wittenberg Tigers


Courtesy of Rachel Dan

Sophomore defensive back Adrian Kelly drags down a Wittenberg University ball carrier in a game last Saturday. Kelly had 11 total tackles and a pass breakup in the game.

Nate Levinson and Tyler Sloan

The Yeomen played in their new home facilities for their second conference game of the year against the nationally ranked Wittenberg University Tigers on Saturday, Sept. 27 and ultimately came up short in a 48–10 defeat.

In similar fashion to their previous game against The College of Wooster Fighting Scots, the Yeomen’s struggles were rooted in the defense’s inability to get off the field on third down and stop the run. The Yeomen allowed the Tigers to convert seven of twelve third down opportunities and were gashed for 197 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

“We’re one play away from getting off the field a lot of the time, and we’re also one person away from making a play,” said senior linebacker Max Schenk. “Football a lot of times comes down to numbers, and if not all 11 people are on the same page during the same play, a big play can easily happen.”

Giving up big plays has been all too common for the Yeomen, and though they have been outscored by a whopping 101 points the last two weeks combined, Schenk believes the scores have not reflected the way the team has played.

“The stats and the numbers of our defense don’t speak to how we’ve actually been playing,” said Schenk, “but they’re also indicative of certain mental errors that we make at crucial times.”

Junior quarterback Lucas Poggiali also cited the defense’s inexperience as a reason for the Yeomen’s recent struggles.

“Right now, because of injuries, we’re pretty young on the defensive line,” he said. “There were times when we had four freshmen on our defensive line, and when you’re playing against a team like Wittenberg, they’re bound to struggle; they’re bound to go through growing pains.”

Despite the mental errors and unpromising results, Head Coach Jay Anderson believes the team is trending in the right direction.

“I thought we played much better against Wittenberg than we did against Wooster,” he said.

While Anderson readily admits that the team isn’t content with its slow start, he’s still confident in the Yeomen’s ability to rebound.

“We’re not where we expected to be,” he said. “I think there’s a level of disappointment there that we started the season 1–3, but we’re encouraged by some of the things that are happening on the football field, and we’re encouraged by the next six games that we have to compete.”

Though some young players struggled early in the season, others have begun contributing more in recent weeks. Sophomore wide receiver Justin Cruz and Coach Anderson noted that first-years Trace McConnell and Corey Fussinger have stepped up their level of play recently. The two combined for six catches and 78 yards against the Tigers.

With a bye this week, Anderson and his fellow coaches have taken their foot off the gas pedal and are putting the focus on keeping locker room morale high.

“We just focus on what we can focus on,” he said. “We make sure our guys understand what we’re working toward. We have to keep the mood light for our players, but we also have to focus on what’s important — attack every day and get better day by day. Our guys are doing a great job, and they understand they’re young.”

This week’s bye also gives the Yeomen a great opportunity to get healthy before a big conference match against the DePauw University Tigers on Oct. 11.

“[The bye week is] about making sure that the guys physically are able to bounce back,” Anderson said. “We want to be as close to 100 percent when we face DePauw in a couple weeks.”

After losing 45–11 on the road to DePauw last season, the Yeomen are out to prove that they’re a new and improved team this season.

“Last year we lost [against DePauw] in not a very good way,” said Cruz. “They’re definitely a beatable team. We definitely should beat them. They’re not anybody that’s out of our reach. It’ll be a really good game, it’ll be a dogfight, and we’re looking for some revenge because they came out and smacked us last year.”