Yes, Saturday marked the 3rd consecutive loss for Presbyterian and yes, the Blue Hose have still yet to beat an NCAA team this season. But the 38-30 loss to Morehead State was a step in the right direction, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.
A lot of people (myself included) have been hard on PC’s defense, and not without reason. They gave up 72 points to Campbell and 63 points to Dayton in consecutive weeks. Even St. Andrews scored 43 points on them in Week 1. The only team the Blue Hose defense had been able to contain was Fort Lauderdale, which was playing its 1st college football game … ever.
That changed on Saturday, when the defense was actually the reason PC was in the game for as long as it was. The game looked like it was going to get ugly after Morehead State jumped out 17-0 in the 1st quarter, but the defense stepped up with some stops to keep the Blue Hose in striking distance the whole way.
“I thought our defense was outstanding compared to what it’s been,” head coach Kevin Kelley said after the game. “We changed a lot of things up. We started setting hard edges. We started bringing a lot of pressure and putting their quarterback under some pressure like we’ve been put under at times.”
Unfortunately for PC, the offense had issues sustaining drives and getting points, so the 38 points still wound up being too much to overcome. But Kelley said that should not be the case in future games as the offense limits the turnovers and short drives.
“If you had told me they were going to score 38, I’ll take it, especially since we gave them a couple of short fields,” Kelley said. “In the end, our defense played well enough for us to win, and I didn’t do a good enough job on offense to give us a chance to win.”
The Blue Hose defense held a Morehead State team that put up 45 points and 569 yards on a solid Dayton team last week to 38 points and only 443 total yards. That’s … improvement. PC also forced 2 turnovers. Brooks Gsell had an interception and Futa Shinkawa forced a fumble that Brooks Russ-Martin recovered.
Among all the PC defensive players, defensive back Colby Smith stood out. He was all over the place, making a team-leading 7 tackles, 1 for a loss.
“I felt like we all came together as a unit,” Smith said. “We’re still a really young unit … so just to see us come together and be able to make stops and keep us in the game, that really made us excited on the defensive side of the ball.”
Smith said that improving on everything defensively was a huge emphasis during the bye week.
“We worked a lot on ourselves,” he said. “A lot of tackling, coverages and everything like that. We had a really good off week, going back to the basics, and I feel like it paid off a lot today.”
Specifically, in the red zone, the defense came up big on several occasions. In the 2nd quarter, the Eagles were threatening to blow the game wide open, but on two straight possessions, they stalled out inside the 20-yard line. The 1st time Morehead State tried a field goal attempt and missed. The 2nd time, they went for it on 4th down and failed. That allowed PC to go into halftime down 24-6 instead of a much bigger deficit. Gsell’s interception also came in the end zone for another red-zone stop in the 4th quarter.
“Just being down [in the red zone with] our backs against the wall, I feel like we embrace that a lot as a defense,” Smith said. “When you look to the left and the right and you see guys ready to make plays, it really boosts your spirits. That’s what I saw a lot of today and I was really happy about it.”
The offensive players recognized the improvements the defense made this week and noted that they have to be better so that a defensive effort like that results in a win instead of a close loss.
“I thought the defense played amazing today,” running back Delvecchio Powell II said. “There’s only so much a defense can do when the offense isn’t putting the ball in the end zone, so they did their job. People have been hard on them all season, and they answered the call today.”
Kelley said he feels the team is close to putting the pieces together, and a big piece of that is the defense. Moving forward, Kelley hopes the defense gains some confidence from this performance, which will allow it to get better and more consistent as the offense improves by not putting the defense in as many tough spots.
“I think they walk out of here knowing that they’re better,” Kelley said. “I’ll take that defensive effort every game the rest of the year … I was really proud of our defense. I hope they walk out of here with confidence. If not, I promise I’m gonna be texting guys and making sure when we practice again on Monday that we’re building their confidence.”