Colgate thrives with suffocating defense

Updated: November 2, 2018, 10:04 AM ET
Associated Press

(STATS) -- There's nothing small about what the Colgate defense is accomplishing this season even though the mind-set is to be one-eleventh.

Basically, from the time players arrive on campus as freshmen, they focus on how each piece of the team adds up collectively. With the defense, players learn to be a one-eleventh contributor.

"They've been preaching that since I got here," senior linebacker T.J. Holl said. "That's a big part of our defensive philosophy -- to do your one-eleventh, do your job. As long as we do, and everybody on the field is doing that, that's what our defense is built around: individuals doing their job and winning individual battles. If we can do that, then our unit as a whole will do better in the end and find more success."

The defensive success has been extraordinary during 12th-ranked Colgate's 7-0 start. In their last six games, fifth-year coach Dan Hunt's Raiders have posted four shutouts -- a Patriot League single-season record -- and given up a field goal in each of the two other wins (that's six points in six games). They rank No. 1 in all NCAA divisions in scoring defense, allowing 3.3 points overall. They also are No. 1 in the FCS in total defense, red zone defense and pass efficiency defense, No. 3 in rushing defense and No. 5 in turnover margin.

On Saturday, a win at Fordham would wrap up at least a share of Colgate's 10th Patriot League title as well as the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.

"We've put ourselves in a nice position as far as winning our league," said Holl, the team's leading tackler. "We've been taking care of business in the conference and we also won our out-of-conference games. Those are obviously big just for our program, just to get our name out there that we're a team that can compete with anybody."

Oh, teams know -- for certain.

The Raiders haven't trailed this season and their suffocating defense has scored more touchdowns (three) than it has allowed (two). Dating to the final four games last season, they have surrendered a touchdown in only one of their last 43 quarters (Holy Cross scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the Sept. 1 opener).

"Getting a shutout is not something that is easy," junior defensive end Nick Wheeler said. "We've been able to have four out of seven games. It's a very special thing to do. But right now, we're just focused on the next one. Georgetown (a 38-0 victory last Saturday) is in the mirrors, the other six games are in the mirrors. So right now, we're just focused on Fordham and trying to do everything we can to prepare for them."

Colgate's defense, whose starting unit consists of only juniors and seniors, utilizes a base 3-4 alignment, full of playmakers. Fiery defensive coordinator Paul Shaffner preaches attitude and effort, which explains why the Raiders practice hard, play with a physical style and usually avoid mental mistakes.

The pain starts up front: Wheeler, a sack artist, and nose tackle Chuck Moore are among the team's strongest players, and Caleb Fell brings plenty of experience to defensive end.

The linemen work to get penetration and push the ball toward the sideline, but no matters where it goes, the linebackers flow toward it. All four starters arrived in Hamilton, New York, from Pennsylvania high schools -- Dillon Delullis, who is second in tackles, and John Steffen on the outside, and Holl and Nick Ioanilli inside.

In the secondary, starting cornerbacks Tyler Castillo and Abu Daramy-Swaray plus senior Cortney Mimms keep opposing quarterbacks from having open targets, and safeties Ben Hunt IV and Alec Wisniewski are excellent at organizing the defense and coming forward to make tackles.

"Last year, we were a very good defense as well, so there's nothing to take away from last year," Holl said, "but I think this year, one thing that we're doing very well is tackling. Doing very well open-field tackling as far as the first guy there bringing them down. We always swarm to the ball, and I think it's just the same as last year, we get a lot of hats to the ball."

It will be difficult for Colgate to match the school-record seven shutouts of its 1935 squad, but since Division I college football split in 1978, the FCS single-season record for shutouts is five, set by South Carolina State in the '78 season.

That's a lot, even if the Raiders break their success down to something small.

"I know as long as I'm doing my one-eleventh, the other 10 guys on the field are doing their one-eleventh," Wheeler said, "we can be a very successful team."


Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press

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