With its two non-conference games completed, the Bethany College football team will set its sights on getting off to a good start in PAC play when the Bison travel to Grove City Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff against the Wolverines.
The Bison go into Saturday's PAC opener with a 0-2 overall record after coming up short in a 49-33 shootout at Randolph-Macon last week. Junior quarterback Matt Grimard accounted for 363 total yards after rushing for 124 and three touchdowns and throwing for another 239 and one TD. While the offense did put up 450 total yards, two costly turnovers gave the Yellow Jackets the ball inside the BC 20 twice and led directly to a pair of scores.
That was coupled with a Randolph-Macon offense that piled up 510 total yards, including 281 on the ground. Weaver did see some positives to take out from the setback, which included settling some personnel questions heading into conference play, but the defensive performance was one to forget.
"I thought we improved a great deal on offense and special teams and also solved a couple personnel situations, so there were plenty of positives to take from Saturday," said Weaver. "But our defensive performance was as bad as we've had in our time here as a staff and that's all on me because I coach the defense. When you score 33 points, you have to make something happen to salvage that and win the football game.
"But since everything we do, and that includes winning, losing, competing, we do as a team, and from an offensive standpoint, we lost by two scores," said Weaver. "We gave them fields at our 13- and 18-yard lines with turnovers that led directly to two scores and that's the difference in the game. So there is plenty of blame to go around, but most of it falls on me.
"We made two different adjustments during the game defensively and nothing worked," said Weaver. "You also have to give credit to Randolph-Macon. They will win seven or eight games this year and are a very good football team."
Entering this season, one of Bethany's main goals was to improve their effectiveness in the red zone. Last year, BC scored touchdowns on just 52 percent of their trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. This season has seen a complete reversal of fortune, as the Bison have posted touchdowns on all eight appearances in the red zone. Weaver gives credit for the vast improvement to the focus of the players, as well the emergence of freshman kicker Justin Evans.
"This is no different than anything else in football that when you emphasize and work on something, you will get better," said Weaver. "We talked about it throughout camp and the players have stepped up and focused on finishing drives. Also, although we haven't tried one yet, we have trust that we can make field goals with Justin. That takes some of the pressure off in trying to call the perfect play."
While the Bison offense is executing at a high rate, Bethany's run defense is looking for answers after the first two weeks. In game one, Centre, led by QB Heath Haden with 151 yards, totaled 272 and four touchdowns on the ground, which was followed up by Randolph-Macon's 281 yards and three scores. Weaver said the issues were completely different from one week to the next, but regardless of the concern, they need to get it fixed before facing a Grove City team that features the top runner in the PAC in RB Steve Kaclik (379 yards, five TDs).
"They were two totally different problems," said Weaver. "In the first week, we stopped the designed runs well, but quarterback scrambles accounted for more than half their yards. Last week, it came down to leverage on the ball and taking good pursuit angles. Give credit to Randolph-Macon because they ran (to the) weak (side) a lot, which they didn't do a lot of before. But it comes down to coaching and getting guys ready every week. If we don't find sounder fits and have a better technique taking angles to the ball, we will really struggle against Grove City because they are a good running football team."
The Wolverines carry a 1-2 mark into this week's tilt and stand at 0-1 in the league following a 24-17 loss at Washington & Jefferson last week. Grove City led 10-7 at halftime, but the Presidents scored 14 points in the third quarter and 17 straight before a bad punt helped set up the final Wolverine score late in the fourth quarter. Kaclik continued his stellar start to the season with a career-high 161 yards and one TD on 23 carries, while the Wolverines defense, which limited W&J to 271 total yards, was led by LB Jason Skyrm with 12 tackles.
Grove City ranks second in the PAC in both scoring (28.0) and rushing offense (195.3). Kaclik's huge performance at W&J comes one week after he was named PAC Offensive Player of the Week after running for 153 yards and three scores in a 47-10 blowout over Anderson. Junior QB Brian Pell, who has thrown for 428 yards and five scores so far, is another threat the Bison will have to keep en eye on Saturday.
"Grove City gives you a ton of stuff to get ready for, maybe more than anyone in the league," said Weaver. "They can spread it out, they have a good inside runner with Kaclik, can jump into their traditional Wing-T and pound it and use their running game to set up the play-action, which was a huge problem for us last week.
"Our keys for Saturday are more fundamental than schematic," said Weaver. "First, we need to keep Pell in the pocket and in front of us to contain him. His development the last two years has been very good. We need to be gap sound, have good pursuit angles and make tackles. And our defensive backs must read their keys, because once they start going downhill, Grove City will throw it over our heads."
Grove City's defense is a solid group that is giving up just 19.0 points per game and ranks fourth in the circuit in total defense (303.0). The linebackers are stout with Skyrm and Ben Manwaring leading the team with 25 tackles each and Jason Ferguson posting 16 stops and a sack. The Wolverines have forced five turnovers this season and teams are converting just 32 percent (14-44) on third down.
"They are sound and don't give you anything," said Weaver. "There is nothing on film that makes you say we can do this. They are always a challenging defense to play. Their guys know where they're supposed to be, understand their scheme very well and don't take unnecessary risks."
While it is the first 0-2 start for the Bison since 2004, the defeats came in non-conference match-ups, so the teams' goals are still very much in reach. That's been the focus of the program as preparation for Grove City began and if the Bison can start out with a victory in conference play, that will go a long way in forgetting about the first two weeks.
"Tuesday can be hard after a day off and putting in the game plan, but this Tuesday's practice was really good and one of the best we've had in terms of focus," said Weaver. "We've never been 0-2 before, so we haven't had to do this, but we have a lot of veteran leadership on this team. All of our goals are very attainable. We don't need to go 8-0 the rest of the way to reach those, but we need to be 1-0 in the PAC after Saturday."