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Griffons pound 'dogs: Bulldogs defense crumbles in second half as Missouri Western beats UMD, 45-27

When Bubba Schweigert arrived at Minnesota Duluth in December 2003, the Bulldogs' new football coach brought with him the same 3-4 defensive scheme that helped build North Dakota into an NCAA Division II power.

When Bubba Schweigert arrived at Minnesota Duluth in December 2003, the Bulldogs' new football coach brought with him the same 3-4 defensive scheme that helped build North Dakota into an NCAA Division II power.

While it took time to implement, the strength of that scheme was on display last week when the Bulldogs had a school-record 10 quarterback sacks in a 31-14 victory over Bemidji State in the season opener at Malosky Stadium.

Sacks were harder to come by for the Bulldogs on Saturday against Missouri Western. But the defense still made enough plays to keep UMD in the game early before the Griffons took control in the second half for a 45-27 victory before 3,102 spectators at Malosky Stadium.

Despite having good field position throughout the game, UMD(1-1) often failed to take advantage of it. The Bulldogs turned the ball over six times, including a sack of Bulldogs quarterback Ted Schlafke that led to Ahmad Griffin's 59-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, taking Missouri Western (2-0) to a 14-0 lead. The last turnover, which came on a punt that hit UMD blocker Josh Quilling, was recovered by the Griffons on the UMD 3-yard line with just more than 3 minutes remaining. Two plays later, Missouri Western quarterback Drew Newhart plunged in from a yard out to put the game away.

The loss spoiled the college debut of former Duluth Central standout Noah Pauley. With D.J. Winfield -- also a true freshman -- out with an ankle injury, the 5-foot-6, 155-pound Pauley led UMD with seven receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

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UMD's pressure defense helped set up the Bulldogs' second score after Newhart tossed an interception at Missouri Western's 15-yard line. Late in the half, UMD lineman Dustin Timmersman had the Bulldogs' first sack, and moments later, strong pressure up the middle led to an easy interception for UMD defensive back Stanley Edouard. But despite the pressure, Newhart showed great poise for a freshman and rarely appeared rattled.

"I'm a strong believer in the 3-4 front. If I thought the defense had any real weaknesses, we wouldn't still be using it," Schweigert said Friday. "I think it helps with recruiting. Defensive linemen are probably the hardest defensive position to recruit. At this level, you don't see many of those defensive linemen who can run up and down the field because most of those guys end up at a major college. With 3-4 defense, you recruit more linebackers, and that's something I think is more readily available in this area."

When Schweigert was hired at UMD, rather than start anew, he kept much of Bob Nielson's former coaching staff, including defensive coordinator John Steger.

Under Steger, UMD ran a 5-2 scheme, but the transition to the 3-4 was relatively smooth. Steger took Schweigert's base scheme and added his own touches.

The 3-4, which features three down linemen and four linebackers, is considered a linebacker's defense because the linemen must take on blockers and free the linebackers to make plays. While the linemen are clogging the line of scrimmage, the linebackers and safeties are making the tackles and grabbing the headlines.

"I really like our defense and our scheme," said UMD senior linebacker Jon Rufledt, who had two sacks and 10 tackles last week in being named North Central Conference defensive player of the week. "It's one of the best systems out there -- just really sound.

"Linebackers love to play in the 3-4. We'll kind of joke around with the linemen about it. We get all the glory, and they do all the hard work, but I'd be the first one to tell you that we couldn't do any of it without them."

The beauty of the scheme is its balance and versatility. With the standard 4-3, opposing offenses know the four down linemen will almost always rush the quarterback. With the 3-4, Steger can rush one or both outside linebackers, or drop them back into pass coverage and instead bring pressure from the inside linebackers. The combinations are endless.

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"The offense doesn't know if pressure is coming from the inside or outside, who's coming and who's going, and on top of all that, we try to disguise it," Steger said. "How much pressure we bring changes from week to week. We're always looking for matchups to see where we feel we have an advantage."

Steger said he didn't have any idea the Bulldogs had 10 sacks last week. He knew it was a lot, but he didn't realize it was a school record until after the game. Now the Bulldogs would like to take the next step where they convert the sacks and pressure into more turnovers.

"We've had some games where we had quite a few sacks, but not anything like that," Steger said, laughing. "That was a once-in-a-decade kind of thing."

JON NOWACKI covers college sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached weeknights at (218) 723-5305 or by e-mail at jnowacki@duluthnews.com .

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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