Thursday, October 16, 2008

Historic Axers

Northern Arizona's defense, which will be on full display in Holt Arena for Saturday night's homecoming contest with Idaho State, is on the brink of an historic season. The Axers have given up just 43 yards rushing in their first six games this season (7.2 yards per game), an average of .3 yards per carry. The FCS record for rushing defense was established by Alabama A&M in 2002, who gave up 39.7 yards per game. Marist, that reknown football powerhouse from Poughkeepsie, NY, holds the NCAA record for average yards per carry, at 1.3, set in 1997.

While NAU still has a gauntlet of Big Sky heavyweights coming up (Montana, Montana State, Weber State and Eastern Washington), the Axers still have a reasonable chance at destroying FCS records for rushing defense.

NAU leads the Big Sky in total, scoring and rushing defense. Yet the Axers have only one player in the top 50 in the league in tackles -- LB Anthony Llanos, who ranks No. 49. And the Axers have held four of their six opponents to negative rushing yards this season, yet they have no one in the top ten in the conference in tackles for a loss.

How to explain these statistical oddities? Well, for one thing NAU is shutting down opponents so thoroughly, they aren't getting enough plays for the Axers to record a lot of tackles. The Axers have run an average of 14 more plays a game than their opponents. But clearly, NAU's defense is the epitome of that tiresome but true coaching cliche -- "a team effort." The Lumberjacks list 16 players with 10 or more tackles; 14 players with at least half a sack; and 16 players with at least half a tackle for a loss.

There are some stars on this NAU defense: All-American defensive back KJ Gerard, who has added four interceptions to his career total of 18 this year; and defensive ends Mike Battisti (5 sacks, 6 tackles for a loss) and Kyle Rath (4.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups) will all get heavy post-season honors consideration. But the key to the success of NAU's unique double-flex defense, which features three down linemen, three linebackers and three safeties, has been the absolute unpredictability of who will be making the big play on any given down.

NAU defensive coordinator Corey Battoon, who has been on the Jerome Souers staff in some capacity since it formed in Flagstaff 11 years ago, should be able to parlay this defense's success into a head coaching job somewhere next year, if he so desires. Assuming, of course, that the tough closing schedule doesn't expose the Axer defense as a mirage. But when you consider that only two teams so far have rushed for positive yardage against NAU, and one of them was then 15th-ranked Arizona State who still was held under 100 yards, you have a tendency to take the Axer D seriously.

How Bout them Wildcats: Weber State won last week, despite terrible field conditions and being on the road. What is really remarkable, though, is that the Wildcats won the week after beating Montana. Prior to the WSU-MSU game in a Bozeman blizzard Saturday, six of the last eight Big Sky teams to beat Montana lost the following week. Weber was one of the exceptions to that rule -- the last time Weber beat the Griz, in 1998, they won the following week. Then, they lost five in a row. The fact that the Wildcats have at least temporarily avoided the post-Griz hangover should really legitimize them as a Big Sky contender. We'll certainly find out more when NAU and Weber get together next week.

Finally....What a Dope I Was. Rule No. 1: When Montana loses, it bounces back. Rule No. 2: When picking the winner of the Montana-EWU game, refer back to Rule 1. Instead, I looked at how the Griz had given up 78 points the previous two weeks and went with the Eagles at home. Silly me. There is a reason they call them "dynasties." When a "dynasty" team loses, it bounces back, and sure enough, when I looked up the word "dynasty" in the dictionary this week, there was that damn Grizzly bear grinning back at me.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Traveling Blues

I have to tell you, for those of you that think traveling is fun....this weekend wasn't. I probably need to do some sort of photo essay so folks can see exactly how ISU football travels, but there is only one 5 o'clock that I recognize, and it isn't the one at 5 am, which I saw Friday and Sunday. Yes, the team had to leave Holt Arena at 5:30 am to get to Salt Lake City to fly to Denver, and we had to leave Greeley at the same ungodly hour to get to Denver on Sunday to get home. That officially sucks, but you know do what you gotta do.

I will say this...the team represents very well. I can't tell you how many compliments I get from random airport people and passengers about how courteous the players are, and how they look (all are in a tie and collared shirt). They might be struggling on the field right now, but they are doing the right things...

Also, basketball starts on Friday night at 7:00 pm at Reed Gym, as the men's team has a pair of open practices (they also have one on Saturday at 1:00 pm). Some folks might want to catch their first glimpse of a team that Street & Smith picked to finish second (that would be a first in my 11 years here....)

Also, undoubtedly, you saw the disciplinary action that coach Z took today with regards to Rashaad Richards and Demetrius Amos. What the fans should get out of that is is doesn't matter if you are a senior, freshman, starter, whatever ... there are certain ways you conduct yourself, and if you don't want to do things the right way, see the answer. I can also use this as a cautionary tale about the Bengal Den Message Board. Someone yesterday mentioned this in their post around 3:30 .... "With the recent dismissal of Demi and Rashaad, this will again put pressure on other players to fill in." Obviously, Demitrius was not dismissed from the team. Just remember that is a fan board, and while many, many, many people post on there as if they truly know everything that is going on, they aren't always quite in the loop.

Onto the links....

Idaho State's release is here, Northern Arizona's is here, and the Big Sky's is here. With the late kickoff, fans have TONS of time to tailgate after the parade, so make sure if you plan on tailgating that you sign up for the Terrific Tailgate IV contest (the form is with the link above).

Tim Flagstad came to the press conference, and covered it in his Monday notebook, and the extra stuff that didn't fit went into the blog. Jayson Bird by the way had his MRI this morning, but the results aren't in yet.

Also, Jon Kasper got stuck in Bozeman (talk about traveling nightmares), so he blogged from the Best Western.

The inter-office SID joke was that Green Day was going to be the official house band for ISU, and they could only sing "Wake Me Up When September Ends", as it just wasn't a good month. Soccer and football both went winless in the month (soccer went 0-6-2, football 0-3), and volleyball was just 3-8 in the month. However, things are looking up, at least for the cross country team, as the women snagged themselves a title down in Cedar City.

Remember, volleyball tonight against Utah Valley at 7:00 pm, and football Saturday at 6:35 pm (go hunting and then come to the game) ...