Misericordia brings plenty of run to Lycoming

Steve Wiser grabbed his defensive linemen by their jerseys, moving them out of their assigned lane during Wednesday’s pre-practice defensive walk-through.

He explained to each player how getting out of his lane changed the Misericordia running play they were preparing for. Wiser continually hammered the point home as he got his defense prepared for each formation it would see come today’s game at David Person Field.

Maybe more so than in any other week this season, Lycoming will have to play disciplined, assignment football against the Cougars. Misericordia’s offense is a different challenge. Their option attack is different than the zone read attacks which are becoming ever more prevalent in all levels of football.

It’s why Wiser was on the field Wednesday explaining the dangers of trying to do too much to stop the Cougars.

“Coach Wise has been saying all week we need to stay in our lanes,” Lycoming defensive lineman Jimmy Nottingham said. “Once we get out of our lane to try and make a play, it gives them an opening to get through.”

Misericordia has the second-best running game in the country through its first two games. It’s a stark contrast to a team which a year ago in its inaugural season scored just 54 points in 10 games. The Cougars have already scored 57 points this season in part because they’ve run 185 offensive plays in two weeks.

The plan is quite simple from the Cougars’ offense. They want to possess the ball, grind the clock and keep opposing offenses off the field.

Quarterback Jeff Puckett is the cog that makes the Misericordia offense go, and through two games this year he’s the leading rusher in the country, averaging better than 200 rushing yards per game. Puckett rushed for 301 yards – the sixth best single-game total in Middle Atlantic Conference history – and helped lead Misericordia to a MAC-record 587 rushing yards in a Week 1 loss to Gettysburg.

He followed it up last week with 159 yards rushing against perennial MAC-title contender Delaware Valley. Puckett’s 460 rushing yards are 80 more than any running back in the country has.

“Second in the nation in rushing is pretty good,” Lycoming safety Mike Ciotti said. “We’re taking it as a task for us to stop the run game and hold them to what we think they can do and not let them run the ball down our throat.”

“There’s similar concepts in the run game (to the zone read),” Clark said. “(Puckett) us good. If you’re running for 300 yards in a game, you’re doing something right.”

What Puckett is doing right is operating the option with absolute precision. He rides the dive man as long as possible before making the decision whether to keep it or hand it off, waiting to see any opening he can either way to make the decision which best benefits his offense.

Puckett has carried the ball for 60 of Misericordia’s 165 rushing attempts this year, averaging 7.7 yards per carry. But even when he hands it off the Cougars are gaining yards at a 4.7-yard-per-carry clip.

It’s how Misericordia ran 92 plays (85 rushes) in a 62-40 loss to Gettysburg. It’s how Misericordia ran 93 plays (80 rushes) in last week’s 42-17 loss to Delaware Valley.

“Anytime you have a great option, whether it’s the Georgia Southern triple option, or the Navy option, all of those guys are phenomenal decision-makers,” Clark said. “I don’t know if magician is the right word, but they’re great with the ball.”

“We have great linebackers who are really athletic,” Ciotti said. “And the athleticism is going to help, but it’s mainly being disciplined, reading our keys and understanding what the quarterback is going to do with the ball.”

This is not the same offense Misericordia ran last season when Lycoming held it to minus-15 rushing yards on 29 attempts. That team tried to stretch the defense and get to the outside.

Much of the Cougars’ damage could come inside today with the option attack. It’s how they’ve managed a more than10-minute time of possession advantage through two weeks. It’s also how they’ve converted nearly half (19 of 41) of their third downs.

“Every game we call third down the money down. We want to get three-and-outs,” Ciotti said. “We don’t want to have multiple money downs which extend the drives. I think the biggest thing for us on defense is stopping them on third down and get them off the field.”