COMMENTARY: Now is the time for Gator D

Heading into last week, I thought the biggest storyline for the Allegheny football team was the change at quarterback. Maybe it’s a mistake of being a young journalist. Maybe it’s that I grew up watching reruns of  “Sportscenter” that always focused on quarterback controversies.
Either way, when head coach Mark Matlak told me that the defense was his biggest concern, I didn’t think much of it. Why get too worried? There’s no way the losses on defense would be as devastating as losing arguably the best quarterback in school history.
But I was wrong about the Gators, whose defense got torched by Bethany College last Saturday for 456 yards of offense, with one player—quarterback Matt Grimard—accounting for two thirds of that yardage. Instead of successfully shutting down the pass game to make the Bisons one-dimensional, like they did last year, they let them run wild. They surrendered 92 rushing yards to Bethany last year and 224 this year. Bethany threw for 232 yards in the season opener compared to 110 one year ago.
Clearly the Gators are missing the services of recent graduates Sid Facaros (safety) and Jermaine Mitchell (defensive tackle), but it’s shocking how the Gators let the same team that they dominated a year ago trample all over them. Yes, Bethany has obviously improved. But the Gator defense, for how much experience they have on the field, should be better. Only two starters from last Saturday—Brad Burkley and Ryan Sherry—didn’t play in the majority of the games last year. They are starting six seniors and three juniors.
The defense should be playing better. But that doesn’t mean they won’t start to. The prior experience that the new starters bring to the field has to kick in at some point, and they will come into their own sooner rather than later. Sooner as in tomorrow against Carnegie Mellon.
The Tartans run a wing-T offense based around the ground game, and the Gators made their hay last year stopping the run. Tomorrow is a perfect opportunity for Allegheny to rally around the run defense that very much defined them last season.
Unlike last week, there isn’t a threat of a pocket passer picking apart the secondary, as last year CMU quarterbacks threw for just 703 yards in 10 games. That continued last week, as CMU’s Rob Kalkstein attempted 13 passes and completed eight of them for an unintimidating 51 yards.
I expect the Gators to grind it out in the trenches and force the Tartans to pass.
While Jordan Fowler had a rough start last week, it was clear that Matlak has faith in him throwing the ball downfield, and although he might not carry the offense like TJ Salopek did last year, I think the Gator passing game will make more connections than it did last week.
It also doesn’t hurt to have history on their side. Allegheny has beaten the Tartans nine consecutive times dating back to a 23-12 victory in 1991.