Vikings to test No. 24 Graceland
"When we came back to work Monday, the players were smiling and feeling good about themselves," recalled Missouri Valley College head football coach Paul Troth.
Such is the difference between winning and losing, which the Vikings had done four straight times -- three in excruciating fashion by blowing fourth-quarter leads -- before Saturday's 31-25 victory over Benedictine.
Valley put it all together against the Ravens, its defense holding the visitors to 200 total yards and the offense piling up 500 yards, 20 first downs and a season-high point total. All that stopped the Vikings were four interceptions and a fumble.
"The turnovers are still a huge white elephant," Troth conceded. "What would the score have been had we not turned it over?"
There's no telling, but it may have been close to the 73 points rung up by Graceland, which will host MVC Saturday, two weeks ago against Evangel. The Yellowjackets, now in the NAIA rankings for the first time since 1997 at No. 24, come into the Heart of America Conference contest rated fourth in the nation in scoring (32.2 points per game).
"It's the best offense we've seen yet," Troth declared. "They have some great players. It's going to be a tremendous challenge."
What Graceland (4-1, 4-1 HAAC) possesses is an outstanding passing attack, second in the NAIA (296.4 ypg), led by sophomore quarterback Clayton Braddock. The transfer from Missouri Southern State has completed 88 of 153 attempts for 1,442 yards and 13 touchdowns -- 39 passes for 635 yards to a pair of senior speedsters from Orlando, Fla.: Anthony Rozier and Dante Johnson.
"The receivers can get behind you in a hurry," Troth said. "We have to be careful not to give up the big play."
The strength of the Orange Crunch defense has been its pass defense, the nation's fourth-best (113.7 ypg), led by junior safety Brian Bell with three interceptions. The Vikings were also able to get their air attack going last week, juniors Jason Shoulders and Roy Harden combining for 316 yards, and have found a reliable target in sophomore Devin Gordon -- third in the league with 28 catches for 373 yards.
"It's been a long process," Troth reflected on the progress of the young receiving corps. "We need to build on that."
The 'Jackets have given up some points to teams with good passing games, 54 to Lindenwood and 48 to Evangel. What Valley has to do is to run the ball effectively to slow down the pass rush, which can be severe with GU's 3-5 scheme -- which most resembles that of MidAmerica Nazarene in its slants and stunts.
"They bring pressure from all different places," Troth said. "They can catch you on a lot of bad plays, but you have a chance to hit them if you catch them right."
Still, Troth is counting on his defense to make stops and the offense to keep the chains -- and clock -- moving.
"We'd like to run the ball and control the clock," he declared. "We can't get into a scoring competition with them."