MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College’s Chad Braun has never lost to his alma mater as a head coach and he’s planning on keeping that streak going this weekend when the Fighting Scots (4-1, 1-0) travel to Jacksonville to meet Illinois College (2-3, 1-0) in a 1 p.m. kickoff for the Blueboys’ Homecoming.
Taking the reins of the program in 2015, Braun’s team immediately broke a three-game skid against IC and have outscored his old team by an average of 54-9 in three meetings. Not one to dwell on the past, Braun’s focus is on 2018 and the personnel and emotion each team will face on Saturday.
“They’re super-talented at receiver,” reported Braun. “Glen Gibbons Jr. is a terrific athlete and a big-time playmaker, but he’s not the only one. They’ve got a dangerous receiving corps and (quarterback) Drew Chance is doing a great job distributing the ball and the line is doing a great job protecting him. He’s very good at finding the open man and we’ll have to be sound in our principles. They’re a big-play offense and we can’t give up the big play.”
Monmouth has been up to the task when it comes to defending. The Scots have yielded just 92 rushing yards in their last four games and held Grinnell to minus 16 yards rushing in last week’s 55-0 win over the Pioneers.
The Scots’ pass rush has also been effective. Thomas Lesniewski’s eight sacks ranks him fifth nationally in sacks per game (1.6) as he closes in on the Scots’ all-time sacks record, needing just 3.5 sacks to tie Greg Bennett’s mark of 34 set from 1987-90. Overall, the Scots have turned in 21 sacks and 47 tackles-for-loss this season. Levi Oliveto recorded a pair of sacks last week – one causing a fumble – and is ranked fourth nationally in forced fumbles.
Lesniewski and Co. should get ample opportunities as the Blueboys are more likely to throw than run, but they’ll have to contend with Chance, a 6-foot-1 sophomore who spreads the ball to no fewer than four receivers who have amassed at least 175 yards and 17 catches each.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, especially in the secondary,” predicted Braun. “We’ll find out how well we have progressed in the last several weeks. We’re always looking to get better. It doesn’t matter how we played last week. It’s how we play this week. Am I more confident in this group than I was in Week 1? Yes. We’ve made some good progress.”
IC’s defense will also be challenged as the Scots have put up 141 points in the last three games while the Monmouth defense hasn’t yielded a point in the last 13 quarters. Senior quarterback Hayden Nelson has been efficient with the ball, throwing for more than 700 yards with 13 touchdowns in five games. Jacolby Maxwell has been his favorite target, hauling in 24 passes for more than 350 yards and seven touchdowns – all team highs.
Senior running back DeAndre Wright has been equally as effective, gaining 180 rushing yards last week to move past Ron Baker into the No. 2 spot for Monmouth’s all-time rushing yardage at 3,667. With at least five games remaining, he trails record-holder Trey Yocum by 906 yards. Wright is also just 385 yards shy of his third 1,000-yard season and would join Yocum and Baker as the only Scots backs with three, 1,000-yard seasons.
“DeAndre has become more of a downhill runner this season,” said Braun. “In the past, he’d try to make you miss. He’s still doing that to a degree, but his mindset has changed this season. He’s added a little weight and some strength to run through the defender instead of around him. Our offense will be challenged. IC’s defense is good and very physical.”
The Blueboys have long considered Monmouth a rivalry game. Combined with their Homecoming and the inside track on the divisional title going to the winner with three games to play, Braun expects an electric atmosphere.
“It’s Homecoming, so they’ll be fired up for this game more than usual,” predicted Braun, who knows of what he speaks from his days as a linebacker at IC. “We know it’s going to be a tough environment to play in. Our kids have played in a lot of tough environments over the years. They’ll be ready. They understand our job each week is to go out and get better. IC will be a great challenge for us. Whichever team comes out on top will have earned it.”