Lycoming defense executes gameplan in win

Mark Ross didn’t even try to search for an answer as to why his Misericordia offense struggled so mightily Saturday against Lycoming. He wasn’t going to hypothesize as to why the Cougars’ second-best rushing offense looked like an also-ran in their third game of the season.

“I gotta look at the film,” Ross said in the minutes following Lycoming’s 52-14 win over Misericordia. “They’re the best disciplined team we see. The off-the-cuff answer is they just outphysicaled us and tackled really well. They played better than we did.”

It’s become less and less surprising with each passing week when the Warriors play the way they did Saturday. They held a Misericordia rushing offense averaging 478 yards per game to 157.

Lycoming did it with a gameplan it executed to perfection. Cougars quarterback Jeff Puckett never had an easy decision to make in his option offense. There weren’t holes bursting open in Misericordia’s offensive line where he could quickly decide to release the ball to his running back, or keep it himself for a big gain.

And that’s exactly the way Lycoming wanted it. The Warriors executed Steve Wiser’s gameplan to perfection, maintaining lane discipline and never trying to make the big play. And in turn, whenever Puckett, the nation’s leading rusher at more than 200 yards per game, took the snap, he was left with choosing between the lesser of two evils with his offensive options.

“They were putting him in some gray areas,” Ross said. “What you need to do is put some indecision in the quarterback, then you stand a chance.”

Lycoming dictated the pace of the game Saturday at David Person Field because of its defense. A Misericordia offense which controlled the football and the clock running at least 90 plays each of the first two weeks of the season, ran just 55 offensive snaps Saturday.

Lycoming held the football for 36 minutes of a 60-minute game. That included at least 8 minutes of possession in three of the four quarters. And the one quarter the Warriors didn’t have at least 8 minutes of possession, they still scored 21 points thanks to scoring runs of 23 and 36 yards from Craig Needhammer and a 43-yard scoring pass from Tyler Jenny to Matt Atkinson.

“When you play groups that want to run a lot of plays and want to run the ball, it only hurts you if we’re not scoring and they are,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “It’s when it’s a close game that it matters. They’re in a tough spot as a second-year program and I’m sure if they could throw it better, they would. (Puckett) is a great runner, very tough, very physical. But (throwing the ball) is not how they want to play the game. Plus I think we’re pretty good defensively and we’ll continue to try and limit teams offensively.”

Saturday was the most complete performance by the Lycoming defense this year, even if it was the fewest amount of snaps the Warriors’ starters have faced all year. In an opening-week, 30-2 loss to Brockport, Lycoming played a brilliant first half before wearing down. In Week 2’s 34-18 win over Wilkes, the defense completely shut down the Colonels’ run game before fading in the fourth quarter.

Playing just one series into the third quarter, Lycoming’s starters allowed just 105 total yards of offense in 36 plays (2.9 yards per play).

“That offense they run, it’s hard to defend,” Lycoming defensive tackle Dwight Hentz said. “But (defensive coordinator Steve Wiser) knew what he was doing. The coaches knew what they were doing, the linebackers knew what they were doing and they could direct us up front and let us know what’s up with the play-calling and what’s coming next.”

The biggest adjustment made by the Warriors against an up-tempo offense was to slow down defensively. Usually the front line tries to take control allowing middle linebacker Kabongo Bukasa to fly to the ball and make plays.

That changed a bit Saturday.

“With their ability to run the quarterback inside, we slowed the middle linebackers down and made sure it wasn’t a quarterback run and let some other people get to the perimeter and let the (middle linebacker) get there later,” Clark said. “It worked.”

There hasn’t been a whole lot which hasn’t worked for the Warriors this year.