Football 2011 Season Preview: Defense Will Dictate
Wis.- If the adage that 'defense wins
championships' holds true, the 2011 Concordia University Wisconsin
football team could work their way back toward the top of the
Northern Athletics Conference.
CUW returns a core group of defensive starters from a squad that tied statistically for the least yards allowed per game (246.9) in the NAC.
"We are excited about who is coming back for us on defense," said Falcon head coach Greg Etter. "Our guys have one more year in the weight room and an extra season of learning the system. A lot of our players only have two years under their belts and they are ready to make the step towards becoming a dynamic force as a unit."
The Falcons shutdown secondary is led by two-time First Team All-NAC defensive back Justin Rogers (Milwaukee, Wis.). The 6-foot-2 senior ball-hawk not only defended a team-high 12 passes a season ago, but also finished 11th on the team with 25 tackles (19 solo), and three blocked kicks.
Playing behind the Falcon front four, junior Ben Bobowski (Shelby Township, Mich.), senior Joe Moro (Johnsburg, Ill.), sophomore John Palese (Milwaukee, Wis.), and junior Brandon Sanko (Spring Grove, Ill.) forced the opposition into a league-worst 22.8 percent conversion rate on third down.
Etter, a defensive-minded head coach, knows that he needs more than a solid secondary. "We have to stop the run first; hands down that is what we must do," Etter said. "Everything we do on defense is focused on stopping the run. Our goal defensively is to make a team beat us left handed."
Why left handed? Etter and his staff believe that forcing an opposing offensive away from its strength - say a run first oriented offense into a passing team - allows CUW to gain the upper hand by continually adding pressure and forcing the quarterback and offensive coordinator to find a series of plays that are successful.
If CUW can strengthen its rush defense, one that ranked fifth in conference play at 126.7 yards per game last season, it has the tools to be a NAC force. Etter and defensive coordinator Adam Walker's aggressive style had the Falcons ranked 12th in the country last season in tackles for loss per game (8.2)
As a unit, the defense will be led by senior linebacker Anthony Hoitink (Sheboygan, Wis.), junior defensive lineman Matt Lechler (Kiel, Wis.) and Rogers.
"On paper those three guys have the playing experience to lead us again," Etter said. "They have all been honored by the conference for their play and I see them playing to a higher level this year. Once the supporting cast around them raises their level of play, then you will see something special."
Any head coach who is returning the volume of defensive talent that Etter has is going to be smiling, but there is one technical aspect of his defense he would like improved from a year ago, tackling.
"Great defenses have great tacklers," Etter said. "Statistically speaking we had one of the top defenses in the conference last year, but if you watch the film we still had far too many missed tackles. As a head football coach, I am going to place more of an emphasis on tackling. Tackling is not hitting. There are hitters and then there are tacklers, and there is a time to do both."
As the Falcons tackling abilities advance, the opposition will gain fewer yards. To quote the words from Coach Bill Yost in Remember the Titans, "All right now, I don't want them to gain another yard! You blitz…all…night!" Those words are true and opposing defenses should be aware, gaining another yard on this Falcon defense is going to be as difficult as they come.