College Football: Defense making difference for St. Francis
By Dennis Nelson For Sun-Times Media October 10, 2013 9:10PM
Eric Davis (right), of St. Francis, is sixth in the nation with 11 tackles-for-loss. | Dennis Nelson/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2013 6:28AM
Traditionally, St. Francis has gone as far as its explosive offense could take it.
That could change this year. The Saints defense quietly has been coming on the past two seasons and could be the catalyst to a deep run in the NAIA playoffs this year.
“I’m pretty happy with our defense,” coach Joe Curry said. “Being the old defensive coordinator here, I have nothing but the utmost confidence in our defensive coordinator, Jeff Knowles. I told him that when I made him the defensive coordinator.
“I believe in our defense and what we do. They are playing great football right now. Now, they have to keep it up.”
Under Knowles’ direction in 2012, the Saints defense produced 29 takeaways, which marked the second-highest regular-season total in the program’s history. St. Francis has 15 takeaways after five games and is on pace for 33. The school record is 34.
“We’re not a huge blitzing team; we try to make teams beat us,” Curry said. “We want to be real sound with the basic things we do. Our defense is doing that right now.”
No. 25 St. Francis (3-2, 1-0 in the Mid-States Football Association Mideast Division) is fifth in the nation in opponents’ third-down efficiency at 24.7 percent.
“That’s one the things we preach, and we’ve been great on third down all year,” Curry said. “The only thing that we focus on is that particular play, and our kids have really taken that to heart. We want to go 1-0 on every snap; our defense has done that for us.”
The Saints are 10th in the country with 15 sacks and 18th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 3.6 per tote. A year ago, the Saints’ defense ranked fifth in the NAIA in passing defense and 13th in total defense.
Individually, Eric Davis is sixth in the nation with 11 tackles-for-loss and tied for ninth in the nation with five sacks. He leads the team with 36 tackles. Three of junior Jeff Cascella’s four sacks came in a 37-25 loss to St. Xavier. Senior linebacker Mike Passo is second on the team with 35 stops.
Last week against Concordia, the Saints were seven seconds away from posting the program’s first shutout in 23 games. Concordia scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass on the final play from scrimmage. Heading into Saturday’s home game against Robert Morris, St. Francis has allowed three touchdowns on the last 36 drives.
“They are a great ballclub and kind of like us,” Curry said of Robert Morris (4-2, 0-1). “They like to run the ball on offense and don’t turn the ball over. On defense, they pride themselves on not giving up big plays and keeping people out of the end zone.
“They are going to be a huge test for us and our kids know that.”