After seeing Northwest football complete two straight weeks of slim victories, all of Bearcat Nation can take a chill pill.
After a tight 13-0 win against Nebraska-Kearney, the No. 1 question across Northwest Missouri’s campus arose: What is wrong with Northwest football?
Let’s all just pump the breaks on the exaggeration train.
After all, the 2015 National Champions did the exact same thing.
Two years ago, following a close 34-30 defeat over Central Missouri and a 23-16 victory against Central Oklahoma, the Bearcats went on to outscore opponents 321-78 for the remainder of the year and bring home the program’s fifth national title.
While the temptation to compare the veteran 2016 national champions and the youthful 2017 Bearcats is simple to some, it can’t be done.
The defense has historically been the Bearcats bread and butter; same as last year and every season since the mid-1990s.
In 2017, the Bearcats don’t have the second-best athlete in the country.
This is a breakdown of this year’s squad thus far, explaining who they are, what’s great, bad and everything in between.
Listed below are each position with a letter grade ranking them according to statistics, production and consistency.
Defensive Line: A+
Unfathomable is one word to describe the big men up front through three weeks of play. Two shootouts while allowing 3-of-47 (11 percent) on third down (Best in Division II football) are just two statistics that come to mind.
The Bearcat defense only allowed 38 rushing yards against Nebraska-Kearney Sept. 16.
They have also dealt with injuries including seniors Bobby Gruenloh and Caleb Mather as well as junior Anthony Lane.
That has not stopped the likes of freshman Samuel Roberts and sophomore Spencer Philipps to step up and play major roles.
Similar to the defense line, new leaders have risen to the occasion including juniors Ben Althoff and Nick Hess. The pair is also joined by sophomore Jake Brinkman.
The three starters have remained healthy and have totaled 48 tackles.
The linebackers have done their one-eleventh. The mix of substitutes in junior Cole Bixler, junior Matt Connelly and senior Cole Forney have remained strong and efficient.
The defense has allowed the third fewest first downs in the country only allowing 31.
The Bearcat defense is rounded out by a veteran swarm of speedy defensive backs. The defense as a whole has allowed two touchdowns this season. Both have been through the air.
Even so, this ties Northwest for the fewest touchdowns allowed in the conference.
The back four consisting of seniors Edward Richey and Marcus Jones along with sophomores Jacob Gassman and Lane have allowed just 78.7 passing yards per game (34.2 percent), earning Northwest the No. 1 spot in the MIAA.
The second best is Lindenwold allowing 162 yards per game (60 percent).
This is arguably, once again, the best defense in Division II football.
Offensive Line: C
This group of has the most room to grow. The Bearcat rushing attack has had little room to work. After last week’s win over Nebraska-Kearney, the Bearcats totaled just 68 yards on the ground.
In Weeks 2 and 3, the line has not been able to develop the all-important push. Instead, the push is coming from its opponents.
It is difficult to break down an offensive line, but when you see what the offense did in a 34-0 win against Emporia State, the opportunity is clearly present.
After two straight weeks of uncertain offensive consistency, the offensive line will always be the first to be thrown into the fire.
Wide Receivers: B
Junior Shawn Bane Jr. and senior Shane Williams have been as consistent as they come. Impressive showings as well as senior tight end Clayton Wilson.
The answer for more points on the board will ultimately come from a lot of these highly skilled Bearcat wide receivers.
This will only happen if the receiving core loosens up and plays with freedom.
This group has the deepest set of talent on the team. If the dropped passes can be eliminated and the free-flowing style can awaken, the 50 and 60 point games may be unleashed.
Running Backs: C+
This may be the harshest grade on the sheet. Outside of a few big run plays, the Northwest rushing attack has struggled to find any consistency.
Outside of a few big runs, seniors Cameron Wilcox and Jordan Grove seem hesitant.
The Bearcat rushing game will need a major makeover considering the loss of Wilcox.
The senior walked off the field against Nebraska-Kearney with an unofficial dislocated right shoulder.
In the last two weeks, Northwest has totaled one rushing touchdown.
Senior Zach Martin is a smart guy. Before the Nebraska-Kearney win, Martin maintained Division II’s top completion percentage.
His name can also be found on the 2016 MIAA Academic Honor Roll.
He is clearly the guy chosen to lead this team. He will be until something catastrophic happens, which has not happened in 33-straight games.
Special Teams: B
After hitting 2-of-5 field goals in the Bearcat’s previous game, the kicking game is the only space for improvement.
Otherwise, coach Rich Wright has had nothing but good things to say about this group. Don’t forget about the blocked field goal that led to a 69-yard touchdown against the No. 4 ranked