|When 11th-ranked Monmouth College hosts Beloit for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday at April Zorn Memorial Stadium, they'll be reminded of what they were a few years ago.
"Beloit reminds me a lot of where we were when we first got here," said Steve Bell of the 2-0 Buccaneers. "They had that core group of young players that started with Coach (Chris) Brann. Now those guys are juniors and seniors. It's a natural progression with that continuity. I knew last year they would be good."
They were more than "good" last Saturday, when a trio of sophomores led the charge in a 25-7 win over Carroll. All-conference running back Terence Steward rushed for 105 yards and three touchdowns, quarterback Brian Maughn threw for 244 yards and wide receiver Derek Carrier caught seven passes for 127 yards. Carroll, picked fourth in the Midwest Conference coaches' poll, was held to 209 yards while Beloit, tabbed sixth, rolled up more than 400 yards.
The Scots also had a good offensive showing last week in a 56-3 win over Lawrence. Wide receiver Kyle Wantland caught three of Monmouth's six TD passes and quarterback Alex Tanney had his second 300-plus yard passing game this season, and his fourth consecutive dating back to last year's playoff run. Monmouth's defense held the Vikings to 85 yards and created nine turnovers - including two Shane Reschke interceptions - while the offense racked up 533 yards and scored eight TDs.
Defensively for Beloit, three of their top four tacklers are defensive backs. Junior linebacker Tony Baratti and sophomore defensive back Vince Salucci share the team lead with 14 tackles each. Senior lineman Kyle Hansgen has half of Beloit's eight sacks and Baratti has two.
"They play a coverage scheme that gets their safeties involved in the run," explained Bell. "Baratti is a very good football player and it seems like he's everywhere. They'll present a challenge for us offensively."
The challenge for Beloit is to stop the Scots' offense, which has scored an average of 47.5 points per game, ranking them 12th in Division III. Monmouth also averages 479 yards per game compared to Beloit's nearly 400 yards.
Beloit could be up to the challenge. The Bucs have held opponents to just over 14 points per game while scoring an average of 32 points through the first two games. They gain ground primarily out of a one-back, spread formation, but aren't hesitant to use a Wing-T on occasion - and they're effective running or throwing, grinding out 150 yards per game via the run and nearly 250 yards when they throw.
Beloit has developed a potent offensive attack behind their sophomore QB. Maughn's favorite target has been Carrier (11 receptions/193 yards) and Steward has gotten the bulk of the carries (25 carries/105 yards/3 TDs). The Bucs can grind it out in the trenches with an offensive line that averages 269 pounds. They're at 284 pounds if you take 211 pound center Brian Liwergen out of the equation. The large line has blocked well enough to help multi-talented junior running back/wide receiver Andy Christensen average more than 140 all-purpose yards per game.
"They've got a good quarterback, good backs and receivers," said Bell. "They're big up front and we know going in that they're a very, very good football team. Their quarterback can run, so we'll have to stick to our assignments defensively."
The Scots' trademark on defense in the early season has been the ability to give their offense the ball on a short field, recording six interceptions and six fumble recoveries in just two games. Ground gains have been hard to come by against the Monmouth D, too, which has held opponents to just 54 rushing yards per game.
"We'll need to establish a level of consistency on both offense and defense," said Bell of the keys to the game. "It's imperative that we play at the same high level all the time. We've had some lapses where we don't play well. If we don't maintain that high level, it will come back and bite us."
Bell has been preaching the even keel, high level, consistent philosophy for 10 years and has seen his program gain national recognition. He also sees Beloit making strides in the same direction, but is hoping the Buccaneers, in Chris Brann's fourth year, won't duplicate what the Scots did against Beloit in Bell's fourth year - post a 41-14 win.
(Monmouth College Athletics)