Talk about your complete 180s. This week of preparation for the Lycoming defense is vastly different than last week's preparations.
A week after getting ready for a Widener offense that led all the NCAA in scoring and threw passes about as often as the second hand on a clock ticks, the Warriors are turning around to prepare for the 16th-ranked rushing offense in the country.
Yeah, talk about your complete 180s.
Lycoming faces a Wilkes offense averaging better than 260 rushing yards per game, second-best in the Middle Atlantic Conference behind only Delaware Valley. It's an offense in which five players have at least 45 carries this season and average at least 4.5 yards per carry, and two of those are the two quarterbacks the Colonels will use during Saturday's game.
"There's a lot of different elements," Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. "They've got a really nice collection of skill players. They're not huge offensively, but really good quickness and they block people long enough for those guys to make some runs."
Does it feel like deja vu? It should. It's not a scenario uncommon to both teams. Wilkes had the conference's best running game when the two teams met in Week 6 a year ago, a 33-point Warriors win. Lycoming had the conference's best rush defense, and fourth-best in the country giving up just 54.6 yards per game.
This year, the numbers are so similar that it's striking. Wilkes is averaging more rushing yards per game this year than it was when the two teams met a year ago. Lycoming's run defense is still tops in the MAC, despite allowing an average yardage total nearly twice what it allowed last year.
But it doesn't mean the challenge has changed for either team. Wilkes still needs to run the ball with its zone read offense to make everything else work. Lycoming still needs to stop the run to force the Colonels into being one-dimensional, something the secondary has feasted on.
And just to add that extra degree of difficulty this week, the Warriors will likely play without starting cornerback Kody Flail and starting safety Ryan Fenningham. Both injured a knee during last week's loss to Widener. Fenningham had returned last week for the first time since a Week 2 game against Delaware Valley, but reinjured the left knee on an interception in the first half. Flail injured his knee and never returned. Both are scheduled to have MRIs this week.
Ryan Mihoci, the Warriors' usual nickel corner will step into Flail's spot, and safety Cody Butler could see more time in the nickel and dime packages as a corner after shutting down Widener all-America hopeful receiver Anthony Davis a week ago.
"Cody Butler is better and practicing and he played a really nice game the other day," Clark said. "You wish you had them all, but I don't think there's a team out there in the country who has everyone healthy they want to have completely healthy. And quite honestly, (Wilkes head coach Frank Sheptock) and Wilkes don't care if they're playing or not."
Wilkes' offensive line faces a Lycoming defense that has held six of its seven opponents to fewer than its season average for rushing yards in a game. And the only team that wasn't held below its average - Brockport State - was just 6 yards over its season average. Lebanon Valley, Albright and King's all had their worst rushing performance of the season against Lycoming.
A big part of the defensive strength for the Warriors has been the play of sophomore defensive tackle Jimmy Nottingham. The Highstown, N.J., native has gotten into the rotation on the defensive line with the likes of veterans Dwight Hentz and Roger Jayne and has been a force to be dealt with. He has 12 tackles this year, including two for a loss of yards.
Nottingham is a 6-foot-1, 261-pound presence in the middle that has the ability to stand up blockers and give the Warriors' linebackers time to fill holes to stop runs at the point of attack.
"When we recruited him, early on we knew he was really talented, but you just don't know if he had great experience," Clark said. "We had to teach him to play the way we wanted a defensive lineman to play, and not just go after the ball. The light has gone on. He's got good size, he's got pretty good strength and he can certainly run around. We're thrilled."
Nottingham adds depth to a defensive line that already rotates in players like hockey line changes. He adds more athleticism to a group that boasts two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Week Nate Oropollo as well as Braden Zeiner and Zack McMenamin.
In fact, in going along with the Warriors' wish to upgrade its athleticism defensively in recent years, Notthingham fits into that plan well.
"Jimmy maybe has more athleticism and is maybe a bit more talented than Zack," Clark said. "I think is kind of a blue collar kid that maximizes all of his talent. But I think Jimmy athletically can do things that maybe Zack can't. To see him figure it out and take coaching from coach Radocaj and coach Thiel, I think he's got a chance to be a Roger Jayne type of player, which is good for us."
And just one more headache for Wilkes to worry about.