MONMOUTH, Ill. – Making its sixth trip to the NCAA football playoffs, this will be Monmouth College’s first trip to the Eastern time zone when the Fighting Scots travel to Trine University in Angola, Ind., Saturday for a noon EST kickoff.
The first round game will also mark the first meeting between the Scots and the Thunder. Monmouth’s new opponent is ranked in the top 20 by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and D3football.com. Now in his third year as Monmouth’s head coach and making back-to-back trips to the postseason after two straight Midwest Conference championships, Chad Braun has made a quick study of his opponent.
“They’ve got a really, really talented tailback,” reported Braun of 5-foot-9 junior Lamar Carswell. “Their quarterback (senior Evan Wyse) is a great decision maker and doesn’t turn the ball over much. They run a bazillion different formations and score at a really high clip. They’ll be a challenge for our defense.”
Monmouth’s defense has been up to the challenge this season, holding teams to just over 10 points a game, 2.5 points better than the Thunder defense. Trine gets the advantage in the scoring column, as the Thunder have put up more than 46 points and nearly 500 yards per game – topping the Scots’ 37 points and 411-yard averages. None of that matters to Braun, who’s drawing on his seven playoff games as a head coach or assistant for inspiration.
“I think in the playoffs you have to take the same approach with preparation as you did during the regular season,” said Braun, dispelling any notions of a complete overhaul to battle the high-powered Thunder. “You want your players to react the same as they always have. We’ve tried to get better every week and that’s the theme again this week. When you get right down to it, it’s still football, albeit this week it’s against someone we’ve never seen before. Ultimately, we’ve got to play better each week and we’ve done that to this point.”
Trine’s Wyse – a dual threat with nearly 1,000 rushing yards and 11 TDs – also sports a 200.7 pass efficiency rating with 17 TDs, more than 1,400 yards and just three interceptions. He’s thrown most often to 5-8 wide out Jeffrey Barnett. The junior has hauled in 34 throws for over 700 yards and nine touchdowns. The Thunder can also roll with Carswell, who has rushed for more than 1,300 yards, averaging more than eight yards per carry. His 22 rushing TDs ranks fifth nationally.
Monmouth’s offense has also been an efficient machine behind junior quarterback Hayden Nelson, who has connected on nearly 60 percent of his passes for nearly 1,800 yards and 20 TDs. He’s spread the wealth, most often to junior receiver Yansay Williams (35 receptions, 542 yards, 11 TDs), but Jacolby Maxwell (28 catches 364 yards) and Austin Hite (25 catches, 354 yards) are also talented targets with big play potential.
The Scots also sport a two-time 1,000-yard rusher in DeAndre Wright. The shifty junior leads the team with a dozen TDs and his nearly 3,000 yards ranks him fourth on Monmouth’s career list.
But this game could be about the defense. More appropriately, can Monmouth’s defense – ranked No. 1 nationally in passing defense (107.4), No. 4 in total defense (212.2) and No. 9 in scoring defense (10.3) – turn the gas off on the high octane Thunder, who boast the nation’s No. 6 scoring offense and No. 4 rushing offense?
“Trine’s skill kids are super quick,” admitted Braun. “We’ve gone against (Lake Forest’s) Joey Valdivia, but Trine’s Carswell kid is every bit as good as Joey, very quick and fast. He can cut on a dime and make you miss in a phone booth. They’re a big-play offense and we’ve got to limit, if not eliminate, those big plays.”
Monmouth’s offense has also shown big play potential, but the Scots will face a Thunder defense that swarms to the ball. No defender has more than 70 tackles, but they’ve had a nose for the ball with 20 interceptions, ranking seventh nationally in that category.
“We’ll have to take care of the ball and limit their big plays,” reported Braun of two keys to the game. “We need to put them on a long field and make them drive and sustain drives. If we can do that, we’ll have a shot.”