And so we've come to the third leg of the trifecta. If you want to see what I had to say about the Bison or the Dragons, click the links. But this one's about Concordia so I'll get on with it.
In 2016 the Moorhead Cobbers were a play or two away from a two loss season. The seven wins that they did came away with were mostly of the very convincing variety. Likewise, they had two losses that were no doubters. So where does that leave this year's squad?
Well potentially in a better position because their first loss from last year, to Jamestown, isn't an opponent this time around. As for the other two L's, they will get a chance to make good against both of those schools this year. The three point loss to St. Thomas is easily the narrowest gap to bridge. Their season finale was a 24 point defeat which may bring up bad blood when Saint John's comes back at the same time this November.
But the schedule can only give faint hints at how things may go. More important is continuity of talent and coaching. The Cobbers have had the same leading man since the early days of the millennium so that continuity is unquestionable. Whether the coach makes the players or the players make the coach look good is a chicken & egg question. They each benefit the other. Well Concordia's returning field talent seems poised to make the coaching staff look very good.
Let's start on the offensive side of the ball. After averaging a few percentage points below 265 yards per game on the ground, the Burgundy & Gold are returning to the field with their top 3 ball carriers; Chad Johnson, QB Michael Herzog & Jason Montonye . They graduated a handful of blockers so a decline in the average is possible, but just as possible is an increase in per game rushing. But yardage is only as good as the number of touchdowns that it results in. That was 31 in 2016. So maybe it'll be in the 25 - 28 range this year or maybe that will increase this season as well. That's the positive to watching the Cobbers offense. The negative is the air game.
Suffice it to say that last year they had a pretty putrid passing offense. Under 73 yards passing per with only 7 scores. I would hope that gets better, at least into the triple digits for yards and double digits for touchdowns. The bad may get worse when adding in that their top 2 receivers both graduated. The third man on the catch list was a running back a season ago so they may be able to utilize the short passing game as an extension of the run but that would leave a very crowded defensive front for the backs to have to deal with. The upside of it may be that they have plenty of height amongst their receiving core so even just being able to utilize the jump ball could make a difference, but that will come down to the ability of the quarterback to make the reads & deliver the ball on time and on target. It's worth noting before I move to the defense it hasn't always been as ineffective as it was last year, look no further then the fact that Brandon Zylstra is making some noise in the CFL as a CC grad wide receiver. So there is some reason for optimism, but stifled optimism would be wise.
But I digress to the defense. In terms of yardage they allowed a respectable 316 total yards per game last season & under 17 points per as well. Beyond those baseline stats, they collected 16 interceptions by 10 different players, 3 of which were taken to the house. 18 sacks were also tallied in 2016. Sticking with sacks for a second, their leading pass rusher was Gunnar Collman who is just coming into his own as a Junior this year. The Davies high school product will be joined by both of his companions in the top three of quarterback take downs - Alex Berg & Andrew Thompson. So that's a great start for the 2017 defense, but isn't nearly all that the coaches will have to work with this year. Of the six players to collect multiple interceptions, four did not graduate last year, and that's just the multi pick guys. So whether it's the defensive front, or back field the defense seems poised to be just as strong in 2017 as it was in 2016.
With a little more then a week to go until they kick it off in Nebraska, both the offense and the defense seem like they will be able to compete with anyone on their roster and in so doing may be able to go from the good (7-3) to even better!