Defense leads John Carroll, again

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Mason McKenrick led John Carroll in tackles in its toughest game of the season so far, the opener at UW-Oshkosh.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com

John Carroll’s defensive players are stingy – but, in a good way for the Blue Streaks.

They’re becoming less and less generous each week as well.

Once again, John Carroll boasts one of the nation’s top defenses. Currently, the Blue Streaks rank fourth nationally at 211.1 yards allowed per game. It’s nothing unusual for John Carroll (8-0 overall), but it’s certainly noticeable to OAC opponents.

“It’s been outstanding; our defense has really played great,” JCU coach Tom Arth said. “The great thing about our program is, defense means a lot to our players. They compete every day at practice. We have a great group of coaches who put our players in positive situations to succeed and the players have executed at a high level. It’s really benefited our team.”

The team is tied with Mount Union atop the OAC standings are at 7-0. The squad’s defense has been a main reason why. In Saturday’s 31-3 win at Muskingum, the Fighting Muskies managed just 117 total yards and went 0 for 13 on third downs.

It’s been that way most of the season for the Blue Streaks, who limited an opponent to fewer than 100 yards rushing for the fifth time this season. Mason McKenrick leads the team with 55 tackles and is second with 4.5 sacks. Ray Brown paces the squad with 7.5 sacks.

“We’ve been a top-10 defense the last four years. We haven’t changed much at all,” Arth said. “We’ve plugged in some new guys. We graduated a majority of our defensive linemen and we have some new linebackers out there. Our secondary was the most experienced group coming back. It’s been a total group effort, though. We continue to play hard.”

The defense has improved since UW-Oshkosh, a 2015 national semifinalist, posted a 33-14 win in the season opener. The 33 points represent nearly a third of the 90 John Carroll’s defense has allowed this season.

“We knew we had a team that really had a lot of ability to improve. We felt we had a great camp and were ready to open the season and play on the road against a great opponent,” Arth said. “Not many teams are willing to play one of the top teams in the country on the road in the opener. That’s the way we operate. We know the only way for us to improve is to play against the best people we can. We certainly grew a lot in that opener and have just progressed and continued to improve from that point on.”

On offense, freshman quarterback Anthony Moeglin has continued to cement his spot under center. He passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s win. He’s working his way up the OAC leaderboard, too.

“He is a really confident young player. He’s a great leader. He received a lot of votes to be captain, which says a lot about his character,” Arth sad. “The best thing about Anthony is that it means so much to him. He works so hard to be great. He pushes every day to be better. I’ve seen a great progression throughout the year. He’s only getting better every week.”

While Moeglin finds his way, John Carroll has the luxury of leaning on running backs Ro Golphin, Sam Kukura and Arin Pruitt. The trio has combined for 1,503 yards and 20 touchdowns.

“It’s been great. We feel so confident in all of our running backs, even beyond Ro, Sam and Pruitt. We feel very good about that group, “Arth said. “We have two fullbacks who can go in there and pave the way. We’ve done a great job up front. Our guys come off the ball and our backs run the ball hard. They are violent runners. That brings a lot of energy and momentum to our team.”

The Blue Streaks are on a collision course with Mount Union for the OAC title. Both teams meet next week to wrap up the regular season and it projects to be a battle of the unbeatens.

“We don’t really worry about who we’re playing. It’s all about John Carroll and being the best we can be. We’re doing some good things, but we’re not even close to where we want to be. We have a long way to go,” Arth said. “I am proud of the way our guys fight and compete every day. We’re challenging them to see how good we can get. We still haven’t put together a 60-minute game. We feel we’re heading in the right direction.”

Game of the Week

DePauw 30, Denison 16:  The Tigers’ defense dominated in the upset win. DePauw had six sacks, intercepted four passes and limited the Big Red to 12 rushing yards. Denison’s defeat created a three-team logjam at 6-1 atop the standings with Wabash and Wittenberg. That’ll change this weekend as Wabash visits Denison in another big clash.

What to Watch

Case Western Reserve at Westminster: The Spartans (8-0) begin a grueling stretch where they visit the Titans and welcome Carnegie Mellon to wrap up the regular season. Their perfect record will be put to the test, especially at Westminster. The Titans are coming off a 35-23 loss at Carnegie Mellon and will be fired up for this fray.

In the polls

No. 1 Mount Union (8-0) cruised past Otterbein, 66-7. The Raiders travel to Muskingum on Saturday.

No. 13 Thomas More (8-1) defeated Bethany, 30-7. The Saints close out the regular season Saturday at Thiel.

No. 19 Wabash (7-1) moved up a spot after its 28-0 triumph at Ohio Wesleyan. The Little Giants have a huge game at Denison on Saturday.

No. 20 John Carroll (7-1) slid up a place following its 31-3 win over Muskingum. The Blue Streaks welcome Otterbein on Saturday.

No. 22 Wittenberg (7-1) jumped a spot after it raced past Oberlin, 35-3. The Tigers battle Kenyon on Saturday.

No. 24 Case Western Reserve (8-0) moved up after its 56-38 win at Washington. The Spartans travel to Westminster for a key PAC contest on Saturday.

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Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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