MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College (3-1) officially opens defense of its Midwest Conference title this weekend with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Grinnell College (1-3) as the league moves into divisional play.
The Fighting Scots enter South Division play on a roll with back-to-back shutouts of Macalester and Lawrence. Monmouth’s defense last week allowed the Vikings just 49 yards and has surrendered less than 160 yards in the last two games combined. The Scots’ offense racked up more than 500 yards in last week’s 34-0 win over Lawrence, but coach Chad Braun isn’t taking anything for granted when meeting the Pioneers, citing a 2012 season in which the Scots entered the game after a win over perennial power St. Norbert.
“We were coming off a big win over St. Norbert and then went to Grinnell and lost,” explained Braun. “That game is still etched in my mind. I don’t want a repeat. We’ve got to be ready and prepared. Our guys know that every game really matters now that we’re in the division. There is very little margin for error. We want to be in the driver’s seat. We don’t want to rely on anyone else to knock off a team to put us in the championship game come Nov. 11.”
The Pioneers dropped a 55-0 decision at Ripon a week ago and were shut down by St. Norbert 66-13 a week earlier. The Red Hawks scored on their first three possessions to set the tone, but Braun isn’t looking at last week’s game in prepping his squad for the divisional opener.
“We have to take care of business each and every week,” said Braun. “It’s about playing our best football over the next five weeks. Our offense isn’t there just yet, but we are getting better every week. There’s more room for growth, and that goes for the defense, too. We’re not a finished product there, either.”
Braun’s defense may be hard-pressed to improve on their stats from the last two games, but the coach – now in his third season guiding the program – has higher aspirations for his team as they face the Pioneers.
“There’s always room for improvement, no matter how well you’re playing or how good the stats look,” said Braun. “We might be getting the results, but that doesn’t mean we’re always doing the right thing to get those results. Our job as coaches is to make sure we’re getting the right results in the right manner. Those details will make a difference in the long run.”
When it comes to long runs, the Scots are gearing to duplicate last week’s big play performances, which produced four TDs of 35 yards or more. On the defensive side, Braun is counting on more of the same from his stingy, ball-swarming unit to shut down the Pioneers’ offense, which has handed the ball evenly to a pair of running backs who have combined for nearly 400 yards.
“We can’t afford to go to Grinnell and lay an egg,” warned Braun. “I’ll remind our guys of that 2012 game. I know Grinnell’s staff will have their guys fired up and ready to play. They’re always tough to defend. Our guys understand the importance of these divisional games. It’s a short season now, with just five games to get to the championship game and then one more for the title. With such a short divisional schedule, one misstep could cost you your conference title hopes.”