COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The turnaround for the Benedict College Tigers this season can be attributed to a dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
A year ago, the Tigers gave up an average of 400 yards of offense to opposing teams, and more than 214 yards rushing per game. Both those numbers ranked near the bottom of all 168 NCAA Division II teams. This year the Tigers have slashed those numbers and are allowing just 269 yards of offense per game, and just 64 yards rushing per game. That first number ranks 13th best in Division II, while the yards rushing figure is the fourth best in the country. Benedict also ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (allowing 10.5 points per game), team sacks (4th in NCAA Division II) and passes intercepted, where they have already surpassed last year's 10-game total in just four games. A year ago, Benedict ranked dead last in kickoff return defense, allowing opponents more than 28 yards per return. This season, the Tigers rank third in the nation.
Benedict head football coach Mike White said the difference this year is a combination of things, including a tough offseason conditioning program and the addition of some key players, including linebacker Kendrick Frazier and the two safeties - freshman Robert Cummings and junior Edward Kirkland - as well as a team commitment to stopping opponents from running the ball.
"They help settle us down in the coverage," White said of the two safeties. "So you don't see as many big plays. And everybody's committed to slowing the run down. That's what I like. That's what the defense is supposed to be about - stopping them from running the ball and forcing it in the air. And we've been pretty successful with that kind of plan. That's probably where the basis of the success of the defense is, slowing the run down."
The Tiger defense will be put to the test this Saturday when Benedict travels to Boiling Springs, N.C., to take on the Runnin' Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb University. Gardner-Webb is a member of the Big South Conference and competes at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision level.
"This is a whole new animal. This is a lot tougher for us," White said. "With the option game they have, with the receiver, quarterback and back they have, and a really, really good offensive line, it's going to make it tough for us."
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