Millikin Footballs looks to Rebound v. Elmhurst

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Caleb Buehrle

The Millikin football team looks to bounce back from a momentum-stopping loss in last week’s homecoming game v. Carthage. The Big Blue offense was puzzling: on one hand, when they kept possession of the football the unit looked as if they were almost too much to handle; on the other, costly turnovers doomed them and thwarted any attempt at a comeback. The defense, quite frankly, could not stop the Firebird offense. 

Adding to what is a confusing box score, the Big Blue outpaced Carthage in rushing yards, receiving yards, time of possession, plays run, and first downs. What ultimately lead to Carthage’s blowout win was the 4 Millikin turnovers, including a pick-6, and the defense’s inability to stop Carthage from beating them over the top with deep pass plays, as the Firebirds threw 5 touchdown passes of 25 yards or greater. 

A weaker opponent

Simply put, the Elmhurst team facing the Big Blue this week pales in comparison to Carthage… and most every other team in the CCIW, save for North Park. In last week’s roadtrip to Bloomington to take on Illinois Wesleyan, the previously 0-3 Titans embarrassed the Blue Jays by a score 52-3, moving Elmhurst to 0-4, tied in the conference’s basement with the aforementioned North Park. They’ve been outscored in these 4 losses by a total of 158-31, scoring the least points in the CCIW. 

Rebound week for the Big Blue defense

Carthage’s red hot offense came into town and shredded Millikin’s defense. Elmhurst, on the other hand, should be a chance for the Big Blue defense to get headed back in the right direction. The Blue Jays have not scored a single rushing touchdown this season- zero. 11 different players have ran the ball, but Julian Cavallo leads the pack with only 144 yards. Quarterback Noah Henkel has also run for 131 yards on the year, however all but 9 of them have been wiped out by sacks, part of the conference-leading 17 Elmhurst has allowed this year. 

Henkel and the passing game have been largely ineffective as well. Winston Brown and Joseph McKinley have stood out as the best receivers on the team, but have combined for an underwhelming 251 yards on the year. And while Henkel has only thrown 2 interceptions on the year, the team has averaged a meager 213 yards per game through the air. 

Offense, keep rolling

While the Elmhurst defense hasn’t been the biggest reason for their abysmal start to the 2021 season, it has not helped their cause. The only reason this group has not given up the most points in the league is because, you guessed it, North Park has somehow given up more. 6 of the 9 touchdown passes allowed have been for 25+ yards, and they even allowed rushing touchdowns of 52, 22, and 67 yards on back-to back-to-back drives against Illinois Wesleyan last week. While they have been put in a tough spot because of the lack of any sort of offense, the Blue Jay defense has pushed back minimally at best, something Millikin will look to exploit this coming Saturday. 

Take care of business

If Millikin wants to end this season with a winning record, handling teams such as Elmhurst is a must. Even though they are vying for the worst team in the CCIW, taking them lightly is how teams like this play spoiler in games they should not win. 

Millikin doesn’t need to change their game plan of controlling the lines of scrimmage to defeat the Blue Jays. Sticking to what has made them successful will be enough to avoid the upset and move to 3-2 on the season. 

Problems could arise, however, if the Big Blue turn the ball over, a concern through the first 4 games. Doing so gives teams like Elmhurst a boost of momentum that has lead to many an upset before. On defense, nothing needs to change. Millikin has excelled at limiting the run game, which is also an Elmhurst weakness. Making the Blue Jay offense one-dimensional, thus forcing them to throw the ball- which has been an emphasis all year- should lead to the best defensive output we have seen thus far this season.