Millikin football looks to get back in win column at Illinois Wesleyan

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Caleb Buehrle

The Millikin football team is looking to right the ship this week after back-to-back losses to Carthage and Elmhurst, setting the Big Blue back to a 2-3 record. After a shootout in the homecoming game v. Carthage, last week’s game at Elmhurst was anything but, resulting in a 28-7 Elmhurst win- their first of the season. The Bluejays stymied a Millikin rushing attack that had paced the Big Blue offense, allowing just 47 yards on the ground. This halted the offense, only scoring 7 points on a 74-yard touchdown pass in the 3rd quarter. 

The Big Blue will look to get back in the win column and return to the .500 mark against 1-4 Illinois Wesleyan this week.

Keep the football in Blue hands

Without a doubt, the Achilles heel of this year’s Millikin offense is the tendency to turn the football over. 8 interceptions, 6 fumbles, and 9 turnovers on downs have killed too many drives thus far in the season. The Big Blue have outgained opponents by over 450 yards in the first 5 games, but drives that need to result in points on the board are not, instead ending with the ball in the other team’s hands. 

Millikin has been outscored by opponents by 6.6 points per game- less than one touchdown. Eliminating turnovers entirely is almost impossible to do in the game of football. Even the 2019 New Orleans Saints, who set an NFL record for least turnovers in a season, still did it 8 times that year. The goal for Millikin is to slow down the rate in which they are doing so in order to see more drives finish in the end zone rather than the opposition’s hands. “We have to be more conscious of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it going forward,” said head coach Dan Gritti. “It’s got to be a focus of ours and we can’t allow things like that to happen anymore.”

Limiting penalties 

The Big Blue lead the CCIW for most penalties with 47 on the year, for a whopping 427 yards as a result. When compared to only 31 penalties going against Millikin for 217 yards, it becomes evident just how many times the Big Blue have shot themselves in the foot this season. It goes without saying that fixing this is a priority going forward, but it is especially true for a team trying to stop from falling any further down the standings. 

Some of this can surely be attributed to a young secondary. For a Big Blue team that was looking to be a veteran-led, experienced group at the start of the season, circumstances have led to Millikin having to rely on 4 new faces out of the 5 secondary players in their 4-2-5 defense. This has led to some new perspective from Coach Gritti on how to look at the result on the field; “As hard as it is, you have to evaluate things in those contexts and understand that we’re continuing to grow.” 

While a box score might only show the black & white results of what’s going on, factoring in the inexperience on the field, combined with the fact that some players are being forced into action before the were ready to, may shed some light on why things are happening the way they are. 

Run game, offense need to return to form

One of the bigger concerns after last week was how the running game was all but eliminated over the course of the contest. After averaging 170.5 yards per game over the first 4 weeks, the unit was held to just 47 against Elmhurst. This, combined with the absence of top wideout Colton Lockwood, led to an offense that was ineffective at best. 

In looking to get back into form this week, the Big Blue will need to get their rushing attack back on track, which will allow the rest of the offense, and especially the passing game, to flow as usual. 

One of the bright spots from the last 2 weeks has been the strides wide receiver Antonio Brown has made, with exactly 127 yards and a touchdown in back to back weeks. The freshman from Chicago and Phillips Academy didn’t register a reception in the first 3 games, but has earned the targets he has gotten. “He’s been working hard to get better every week and we’re seeing more and more contribution from hun as a result,” said Gritti. 

Controlling the atmosphere

With the youth this team is currently navigating, traveling to a raucous environment such as the team will face at Illinois Wesleyan will be a challenge. The game should be similar to the shootout-style, offensive outbreak seen against Carthage, with both offenses among the top half of the conference, and defenses in the bottom half. 

The Wesleyan offense is similar to Millikin’s, rushing for 172.5 per game, and throwing for 276, just 18 shy of Millikin’s 294. They’re led by 2 running backs, Hamid Bullie (75 carries/454 yards/3 TD) and Seth Albin (19 carries/143 yards/4 TD), and are paced in the pass attack by Charlie Hamilton (21 catches/401 yards/6 TD). QB Sage Schindler has thrown for 1021 yards, 9 TD’s, and only 2 interceptions on the year. 

Millikin will need to mitigate the Wesleyan rushing attack, as they have done many times this year, in order to take down the Titans in this CCIW road contest against their arch-rivals.