Despite the fact that autumn is just around the corner, the football team’s defense has a little more spring in its step this season. With a new 3-4 defensive scheme that brings more speed to the field, the Bombers’ defense has been key in helping the Blue and Gold achieve a record of 3–0 this season.
The South Hill squad has already forced eight turnovers this season, and Mark Ross, defensive coordinator and assistant coach, said controlling the tempo of the game is an area the defense will continue to focus on improving all season.
“The goal of our defense is to force people into mistakes,” Ross said. “We’ve done a pretty decent job of doing that so far.”
Head Coach Mike Welch said the decision to switch to a three down linemen and four linebacker formation allows the team to play to its particular strengths this season.
“We feel one of our deepest positions this season is linebacker, so we want to get as many of them on the field as possible,” Welch said.
This switch in defensive systems for the Blue and Gold comes at a time when the offensive approach in college football is changing. NCAA rules cater more toward wide receivers than cornerbacks — defenders can only contact a receiver within the first five yards. The sport, once dominated by the running game, now sees spread offenses throwing the football 50 to 60 times a game.
Junior cornerback Mike Conti said the defense recognized this trend, and the switch in defensive alignment produces a unit more geared toward defending against the pass.
“The change came at just the right time for us,” Conti said. “The 3-4 allows us to take advantage of the speed we have on defense and having that extra linebacker out there, instead of a defensive lineman, has helped us shut down the passing game.”
Ross said the players’ ability to adapt to a new defensive system has been key in the team’s continued success so far this season.
“Our personnel is more suited to the system, plain and simple,” Ross said. “We have a lot of good athletes on this team, and the system allows us to get more of them on the field.”
Game experience is something that cannot be taught and the Bombers’ defense has been able to work as a cohesive unit. This is largely because of the fact that the team returned seven starters, and three of the new starters saw playing time in multiple games last season.
“Last year we had a lot of younger guys without a ton of game experience on the defense,” Conti said. “That experience from last season has given us a new level of confidence.”
On defense, the Blue and Gold start nine upperclassman. The only two underclassmen who start on the defensive side of the ball are sophomore linebackers Joe Gilfedder and Will Carter, who are both tied for second on the team with 17 tackles. Welch said the returners’ experience allows each player to rely on each other to step up when it counts.
“Most of these guys have played with each other for three even four years,” Welch said. “It was easier for us to adapt to the system because the players are comfortable with and trust one another.”
The Bombers have given up just 140 passing yards a game and have already picked off five passes this season. Ross said there’s still room for improvement though.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Ross said. “We’ve done a pretty decent job executing the game plans so far, but there are still things we are looking to get better at.”
The Bombers’ defense will look to continue its consistent play at 1 p.m. Saturday as they hit the road to take on Lycoming College — a team that’s averaging 28.5 points per game.