Heading into last Saturday's Heart of America Conference opener at fifth-ranked MidAmerica Nazarene, there were questions about the vaunted defense of the Missouri Valley College football team based on its season debut.
Those were dispelled with a 41-7 victory for the Vikings, who scored on junior Andrew Huhman's 59-yard fumble return and got a league "defensive player of the week" performance from junior Tyler Davis with six tackles and an interception.
"I really think that our defense shutting down the offensive weapons as they had was an outstanding accomplishment," remarked MVC head coach Paul Troth. However, he's hardly sanguine about one game.
"The key's over the long haul, obviously," Troth said. "It was good to see we could play at a high level against a good offense and control them."
Valley (2-0, 1-0 HAAC), which moved from ninth to No. 5 in the NAIA poll, won't see the Pioneers' kind of explosiveness during Saturday's home debut against Avila. The Eagles (0-2, 0-1), though, have managed to average 214.5 rushing yards per game -- led by junior quarterback Dominic Camazzi's 162 yards on the ground -- for 15th place in the national rankings.
"They're doing some things out of a spread formation," Troth said. "They always have the threat of the pass."
Carmazzi has completed 20 of 42 attempts for 194 yards, but has thrown four interceptions, while junior Jacob Hicks is 18 of 36 for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
The Vikings deployed two quarterbacks for most of their game against MidAmerica, but that doesn't mean there's a controversy. While sophomore Bruce Reyes remains the starter, Troth said senior Taylor Beasley "looked good" during fall practices and deserves quality playing time for his hard work.
Of course, Valley's overall offensive approach remains unchanged.
"If we can mash people and run the ball, that's what we want to do," Troth explained. "If you're running the ball and not converting first downs and scoring points, it leaves you in a tough spot."
That may be especially true against Avila, since it brings a lot of pressure with its four-man front on third down and long situations.
A year ago, Reyes made his first college appearance against the Eagles and -- after a ragged beginning in the pouring rain -- threw three TD passes during a 49-0 victory. With a tough road game at No. 9 Baker looming, the Vikings can't afford to approach this game lightly.
"Avila has no pressure on them," Troth said. "They can just come out and play, and you know they'll be fired up."