Ichabods upset bid falls short

Double trouble Washburn’s Terry Grimmett, left, and Pierre Desir team up to tackle a Northwest Missouri State player. The Ichabods came close to their upset bid over the No. 5 Bearcats but fell short, 40-41, on a failed two-point conversion.

Josh Rouse

Much like U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s famous saying, “the buck stops here,” Washburn’s defense knows they are responsible for keeping Washburn in the hunt for a bowl game this postseason as they take on Truman State this Saturday in Kirksville, Mo.

Washburn has already been eliminated from the playoffs with its 41-40 Homecoming loss to No. 5 Northwest Missouri State in last weekend’s game in which the highly-touted Ichabod defense gave up 451 total yards, including 343 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

“If you just have one guy out of place or someone just doesn’t quite do it right, you can give up a lot of big plays,” said Craig Schurig, Washburn’s head coach.

Washburn’s defense, regarded as one of the stronger units against the pass in Division II football in the preseason, struggled early on. It gave up 15 passing touchdowns in the first four games. Pierre Desir, sophomore defensive back, had difficulty living up to his preseason All-American hype, as it appeared several of the big plays against Washburn were blown assignments by Desir. However, Schurig stressed that the early woes were not solely his fault.

“Really, when something doesn’t go well in any phase of football, there’s more to it than any individual person, and when things go well it’s like that, too,” said Schurig. “Some of the things that looked like maybe it was his responsibility, it was part of his responsibility but it was also someone else’s too. We really tried to get across that those weren’t necessarily his errors but it’s something he could still learn from.”

Desir seemed to be back on track against Northwest Missouri State, accounting for nine tackles and picking off his third pass of the year.

“He’s a very fine player,” said Schurig. “He can make up a lot of ground in a hurry and can go attack the football, so hopefully we see that a bunch in these next games.”

However, the rest of the defensive secondary seemed to be having problems of its own. Following the Central Missouri game, in which the defense allowed 447 passing yards and four touchdowns, the Ichabod secondary improved statistically every game, culminating in an impressive game against Pittsburg State in which they allowed only 85 passing yards and no touchdowns.

“I kind of attribute secondary coverage to offensive line play,” said Schurig. “If one guy’s out of sync, the play doesn’t work. Same thing with the secondary coverage, if one guy’s off then they have a chance to get you. That happened early in the season and since that time we’ve been a little bit more disciplined in our coverages and hopefully that continues.”

However, the Ichabods took a significant hit when they lost Casey Curran, senior safety, likely for the season with an ankle injury, and with Michael Wilhoite, senior linebacker/defensive end, occasionally trying to fill in at safety against Northwest Missouri State, the Bearcats took advantage of Curran’s absence.

“It’s real funny because everyone was worried about D-linemen being a holdup and thought nobody would be able to pass on us, and then it was like flip-flopped,” said Wilhoite. “It was like teams were just airing it out on us and killing us with the pass but nobody could run on us. Then finally we had a game [against Nebraska-Omaha] where we finally played a team that was going to challenge us with the run. They said ‘We’re not going to throw the ball, we’re going to run.’ We knew that from watching the tape, we were prepared for it and we did a very good job against it, I thought.”

While Wilhoite understandably didn’t flourish filling in for the injured Curran against one of the top offenses in the MIAA, he has found some success spreading around to other positions on the field.

“He’s big enough to play D-end and he’s got some speed things that help us out there so on certain teams that like to throw the ball, moving him up and giving him some pass rush responsibilities is a big plus and he’s definitely strong enough to do it,” said Schurig.

Wilhoite said that after playing only linebacker for the first five years of his college career, it was a nice change of pace to switch in at defensive end every now and then to apply the pass rush.

“I never did it before but I really enjoyed it,” said Wilhoite. “It’s something I really enjoyed, it’s like a new challenge for me. When they first told me about it I was very excited to do something different because I’ve been doing the same thing for so many years that it was just like ‘Now I get to do something different and get to show maybe another talent that I have.'”

While the secondary has struggled to regain its composure, the defensive line and linebackers have exceeded expectations, holding rushers to only 3.7 yards per rush. This number was considerably lower, 3.2 yards per rush, before the Pitt State game where the Gorillas rushed 53 times for 346 yards and five touchdowns.

“I think our front has started to play well,” said Schurig. “The inside backers and outside backers are really doing a good job on the run game.”

The linebacking squad has had its fair share of injuries, however. Michael “Bear” Hollins, junior linebacker,  hasn’t played a down since incurring a shoulder injury in the Central Missouri game. Luke Schuckman, fifth-year senior linebacker, has been battling concussions. He said he got one against Abilene Christian in the home opener and then had another one against Nebraska-Omaha.

“We’re all kind of banged and bruised, in a way, but we’re fighting through our injuries and doing the best we can to win our next game,” said Schuckman.