Make or break: Why this Saturday’s game is a must-win for McKendree football

Staff Writer

In football, a “trap game” is generally described as a game against an opponent that is thought to pose little challenge. As a result of playing in a trap game, the team that is widely favored to win tends to “shoo off” the opponent. Typically, the favored team will overlook the so-called “lesser team” because of that team’s record, and, as a result, the favored team often slips up and loses. The main flaw with this, is that a team’s record is often not indicative of how good that team actually is. McKendree’s conference matchup this Saturday, Oct. 8, against the University of Indianapolis is nothing short of a trap game.

Why this Saturday is a trap game for McKendree

U-Indy, who comes into this game with a 1-4 record, has yet to defeat another team in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. In fact, their only win thus far is against a pretty poor Kentucky Wesleyan team who is also 1-4 and struggles to do anything positive on the football field. While these stats may seem like viable reasons to write off U-Indy, don’t be so sure. All four of U-Indy’s losses have come against teams with winning records: Hillsdale College, Marian, Southwest Baptist and Truman State. Two of those teams, Southwest Baptist and Marian, are undefeated and boast top 25 rankings in their respective divisions. Marian is the number one team in all of NAIA (the division of collegiate sports that is one level below division II, which McKendree is a part of) and has an explosive passing attack to go along with a stifling run defense. Southwest Baptist, who is in its first week of being a ranked team as they check in at number 20, more than handily beat McKendree last week behind an impressive quarterback-running back duo of T.J. Edwards and Bubba Jenkins. Truman State also has an impressive record of 4-1 and is undefeated in the GLVC. Despite losing to Marian by 22, U-Indy has proven, so far, that they can at least compete with the likes of SBU and Truman State, as they lost by just four points to SBU and seven points to Truman State.

How McKendree can avoid falling into U-Indy’s trap

One positive aspect of McKendree’s season thus far is how they begin games. McKendree has outscored opponents 33-28 thus far in the first quarter of every game this season combined. McKendree has finished the first quarter with the lead in all but one game so far this season, and, if not for a 14-0 start against Southwest Baptist last week, that current first quarter mark would be even better. They were even up 10-0 on Division 1-AA (FCS) opponent, Drake University. Congratulations to Head Coach Mike Babcock and his staff for having the players ready to go out of the gate.

However, when the first 15 minutes of the game ends, the problems seem to begin for the Bearcats. McKendree has been outscored 33-7 so far in the second quarter of games this season. That’s seven points in five total second quarters of football in 2016 thus far. 75 minutes…one touchdown. It’s a really odd occurrence that is unexplainable. One of the keys to the game against U-Indy will be keeping up momentum into the second quarter because it almost seems inevitable that McKendree will get out to a respectable start in this game. In addition, McKendree will have to control the time of possession in the second quarter by running the football, which looks to be their strength this season. If McKendree once again falls behind in the second quarter, they will be forced to rely on the arm of quarterback Brandon Wildman to get them out of the hole. This is problematic because Wildman, a freshman in his first season of college football, hasn’t moved the ball through the air at an efficient rate and is completing just 45.8 percent of his passes.

McKendree’s main focus on offense Saturday should be running the football. U-Indy is a team that is susceptible on the ground, despite only allowing a respectable 148.4 rushing yards per game. The primary reason that U-Indy ranks high in the conference for this stat is because of their game against Kentucky Wesleyan College. KWC, which has averaged just 53.6 rushing yards per game through five games this season, could only muster 19 yards on 25 rushing attempts during their game with U-Indy. If you take away the game against Wesleyan, U-Indy’s rushing yards per game drops to 184 yards allowed. That’s only four yards less than the average of Southwest Baptist, who McKendree actually ran the ball successfully against last week with 145 yards on 35 carries. McKendree also would’ve had more rushing yards had they not gone down by a large margin early and had to revert to passing the ball more than they would like in order to quickly get back in the game, which didn’t work out too well.

U-Indy quarterback Jake Purichia throws a pass against Kentucky Wesleyan College. Photo credit: U-Indy Sports Information

The final key for McKendree will be containing U-Indy quarterback Jake Purichia, who is at the top of the conference for passing yards per game. McKendree’s defense will have to step up, especially the secondary which has proven to have Bearcat playmakers such as defensive backs Nate Powell, Jabaree Winston and Blake Benoist. These three have combined five interceptions so far this season and will need to come up with a few more on Saturday.

Why this game is so important for McKendree

This Saturday’s game could go a long way in determining how McKendree’s season plays out. It will show how the team responds to adversity. If McKendree were to win this game, it would give them a huge boost going into the rest of the conference match-ups. If I were asked to say whether or not McKendree will fall victim to this trap game, my answer would be no. I don’t think the players will forget losing to U-Indy on a pick six at home last season that effectively ended McKendree’s chance to win the GLVC.

While losing Lucky Barr to injury will hurt, they have the tools on the defensive line to replace him. It will be impossible for McKendree to replace his individual sack numbers, but a team effort on the defensive line can make up for the loss. Defensive linemen Tobias Cook, Darion Simmons and Tyler House have all been good against the run, as well as getting to the quarterback. If McKendree can control the time of possession, defend against the pass, successfully run the ball (with some combination of quarterbacks Elcee Burke and Brandon Wildman and running back Shayeen Edwards) and avoid a second quarter lapse, they will win this game.

Prediction: McKendree wins a grind-it-out game on the road, 23-20. What’s your prediction? Leave it in the comments section below!

You can catch the game at 6 p.m. EST at the University of Indianapolis or on the GLVC Sports Network.

Cover photo: Shayeen Edwards, who will be a key player for the Bearcats this Saturday, finds a running lane versus Quincy University. Photo credit: Belleville News-Democrat

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