Defense Ready for St. Cloud State On Thursday
University of Sioux Falls football team practiced for the final time yesterday
before the season opener Thursday night against no. 16 St. Cloud State in St.
Cougar defensive coordinator Jon Anderson and the rest of the defensive staff have spent considerable time preparing for Husky junior quarterback Phillip Klaphake. Klaphake is legitimate dual threat passer who completed 150-of-263 attempts for 2,035 yards and 11 touchdowns with nine interceptions last season. He was also fourth on the team in rushing yards with 411 yards and seven additional touchdowns.
Klaphake gives fifth-year Husky football head coach Scott Underwood the opportunity to open up his playbook on any given play.
“Everything’s on the table in the first game, Klaphake’s a tremendous athlete and the driver of their offense both run and pass,” Anderson said. “He makes good decisions and throws the ball very quickly and we’re going have to choose between pressure and coverage wisely to mix it up on him.”
“I’m expecting a no huddle, up-tempo scenario with a show that’s run by him. He’s a guy we’ve spent a lot of time talking about.”
The task of putting pressure on Klaphake and containing him inside the pocket won’t be assigned to any particular player on the defensive line due to the flexibility of the Cougars’ 3-4 defense.
“That’s the great thing about our defense, being a 3-4 pressure team we’re comfortable at different angles and with different players,” Anderson said. “We have the versatility within the group for the task to not fall on just one or two guys.”
“Hopefully, we can use that surprise element to throw Klaphake off his keys,” he added.
Tasked with collapsing Klaphake’s pocket will be a corps of defensive ends including Michael Tolkamp, Devin Flesher and Jameel Medlock.
“All three of those guys have been really solid in practice and have done a good job this fall,” Anderson said. “We’ve talked about tomorrow night and I expect all three of them to play well.”
Junior defensive end Thomas Marshall, a transfer from Reedley College (Calif.) is also expected to see time on the gridiron.
The athletic of the defense as a whole, particularly the defensive line, plays right into the hands of what Anderson likes to do. Going back to his playing days at Buena Vista, Anderson has loved to be aggressive. With such an experienced and athletic group, the obvious questions is whether Cougar fans can expect more blitzing this season than in the past.
“In terms of blitzing, it always depends on the situation,” Anderson said. “We will pressure, but again we have to be smart about it and we have to mix and match and bring it when it’s not expected."
“That’s part of what we are as a pressure defense and I think it’s exciting to watch our defense and I think that fans will be able to see that this year.”
The problem with bringing pressure and blitzing often is that it leaves your defensive backs on islands with the wide receivers. That could potentially be a good mixture Thursday night as an experienced secondary is one of the Cougars’ strengths. The Huskies return five of their top six receivers, a group that accounted for 70 percent of SCSU’s passing yards and 73 percent of touchdowns receiving (11) last season. The returning receivers include the trio of 5-7 junior Damon Treat (377 yards, 5 TD), 6-0 junior Eli Shoemaker (419 yards, 1 TD) and 6-1 senior Tyler Allery (335 yards).
Matching up with the Husky wideouts and junior tight end Corey Henne (73 yards, one TD) will be corners Brett Jensen (senior), freshman Jon Tidwell and the senior safety tandem of Michael Frericks (weakside) and Robert Virgil (strongside). The Cougars also boast an experienced backup unit that includes senior Adam Heck and sophomore Thad Campbell.
“These guys have practiced well all of fall camp and we’ve been able to get through all of our multiple coverages and let them play fast on the field,”Anderson said. “They know that the best pass rush is great coverage and the guys up front know that the best coverage is a great pass rush so it goes hand and hand.”
Anderson also mentioned that his defensive unit is ready to play and have embraced lining up against the no. 16 ranked Huskies in the first game of the season.
“We don’t too talk much about rankings but I know that it’s time for us to play,” Anderson said. “We’ve done everything we can physically at this point and now have the next day and a half to mentally prepare to get these guys ready to play so they’re not spending every minute they’re awake thinking about this first opportunity—but it would be that way no matter who we’re playing.”
“Obviously we have a lot of respect for what St. Cloud has done in the past, but it’s their first game too,” he added. “We’d be excited to play anybody in the Northern Sun tomorrow night.”
With their preseason schedule complete and kickoff less than thirty hours away, Anderson said that he has been pleased with the progress of his veteran squad over the course of the preseason. The coaches have been vocal with the team about understanding the playbook and being technically and fundamentally sound on every play.
“I’m very pleased with what we’ve done this fall camp; with the number of guys coming back we were able to get through our base packages very aggressively and with great understanding,” Anderson said. “The majority of the guys that will be stepping on the field tomorrow night were here this summer working together in summer workouts and the seniors have been the great leaders we expected them to be.”
“We’ll have a full package Thursday night,” he added.