Photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON- The halfway point of the regular season has arrived. Five games remain on the slate for 22nd-ranked UMHB, beginning with Saturday’s 1 p.m. duel against Sul Ross State. It is the first of two home games remaining on the slate, with the other being against ETBU on Nov. 4.
SRSU has won its last three games, with a victory over NAIA Wayland Baptist followed by victories over ASC foes Texas Lutheran and Austin College in the last two weeks. The Lobos are in the process of transitioning to NCAA D-II, and while the game does contribute to UMHB’s overall winning percentage and strength of schedule, it will not count towards the Crusaders’ conference record. UMHB is currently 2-0 in league play, and one of two American Southwest Conference teams without a conference loss.
“We’re not going to downplay this game,” Harmon said, when asked about the approach considering it does not factor into the league record. “Sul Ross has never beaten us. I’m sure they’d love [to win] their last chance against us. They’re pretty talented.”
As UMHB looks towards its lone October home game, here are three takeaways from Monday’s press conference with Harmon.
The keys to The Cru’s defensive success on Saturday
The defensive front played a pivotal role in Saturday’s win over TLU, sacking Bulldog quarterback Caden Bosanko three times and tallying nine tackles for loss. It ultimately made for a long day for the TLU offense, who was held to just seven points for the first three quarters.
And that came even with the defense on the field for lengthy periods of time, with three TLU drives spanning at least three minutes, 20 seconds, including a fourth quarter possession that went six minutes, 51 seconds.
Harmon was asked about that aspect of the defensive performance, as it certainly has been an area with noticeable development and improvement, dating back to the narrow 17-14 loss to UW-Whitewater.
“We have two freshmen and two juniors on our interior D-Line,” Harmon said. “Our defensive ends are sophomores, a freshman, and a junior. So coming into the season, we didn’t have a ton of experience. They had to learn that six-inch step that we take, and transitioning your strength from your transfer leg to your power leg. All of that stuff is really important.
“When you play against good people, and you don’t get your strength transferred over, you get zoned. You just get wheeled out and that’s what was happening to us. On Saturday we had proper steps and got great penetration. We got our power transitioned into those guards, and we were able to knock their guards back and set up what we call the anchor points, and let our linebackers play real fast. They’re getting better.”
Short passes have led to greater efficiency on offense, kept TLU “off balance”
UMHB’s offense has completed 20+ passes in each of its last two contests, with several playmakers demonstrating a solid pass-catching ability. Four different Crusaders have at least 14 receptions, and three others have recorded five or more. Interestingly, while Isaac Phe and Jackson Tingler combined for 228 passing yards against TLU, the longest reception went for 25 yards. It goes back to a slightly different offensive approach, which has been adjusted as the season has progressed.
“Motions, shifts, different sets–all of that stuff allows you to get [the passes out] faster,” Harmon said. “It allows you to create eye candy for a defensive back to where a shorter route now is a little easier to complete because they’re [in softer coverage].
“We were efficient. We were able to get the ball out fast. Isaac took one hit and it was a bust on the running back. We were able to be real aggressive up front, and get the run game going, which allowed us to get some deeper passes and things like that. I thought we did a great job of keeping them off balance. That’s what we can do. We’re not going to be throwing it to K.J. Miller 20 yards down the field and he takes it 70. That’s just not who we are. But we can be really efficient. [Our offense] had nine possessions against TLU, and scored seven touchdowns.”
Though the 0-3 start remains a source of discussion, UMHB has largely put it in the rearview mirror
Much of the storyline with UMHB’s season continues to surround the 0-3 start, and how the Crusaders responded to the early adversity. But how much are those first three games referenced by Harmon at this point, with the season seven weeks in?
“I went right into, ‘This is a seven-game season, we have to win the conference,'” Harmon said of the mentality after the 0-3 start. “I don’t talk about the 0-3 start very much. Now, I use those three games when we don’t want to practice hard, but like I said, I really felt in the Cru Week, the guys bought into it. There were a few guys that we let just get healthy. But the rest went to work. They bought into it and we ended the week with a bootcamp, which was pretty hard.
“There’s been times in the past when there’s been a little reluctance. But the guys understood. To be honest, because of the first three weeks, it’s like we got the guys’ attention more than if we were to be undefeated. Even coming off a big win, yesterday they were locked in.”
Stay tuned for more coverage of CRU Football, and be looking for our preview of this week’s game against Sul Ross State presented by Sacrifice Training on Thursday.