Vikings in rare role of underdog

Friday, November 1, 2013
The Vikings hope they can spring freshman Malachi Daniels (32) to boost a rushing attack which presently languishes near the bottom of the Heart of America Conference. (Chris Allen/Democrat-News)

With a 13-10 overtime loss to ninth-ranked Baker last week, ending its 18-game Heart of America Conference win streak, the Missouri Valley College football team put itself behind the eight ball in its quest for a third straight title.

The Vikings may be down, dropping six spots to No. 12 in the latest NAIA poll, but hardly out.

"It was frustrating to lose the game, but we can still win conference and get to the playoffs," asserted MVC head coach Paul Troth, who takes his squad to No. 9 Peru State on Saturday. "Obviously, this game is big. We have to win."

Valley finds itself in the catch-up mode due to an offense which has been anemic of late, having been shutout in the first half during back-to-back games. After averaging 37.8 points per game a year ago, the Vikings currently rank eighth in the league with 27.8 points per game -- and are ninth in rushing (138.0 yards per game), a place where Troth's teams seldom dwell.

"It goes back to what it usually does: consistency of executing assignments," he explained. "We missed open throws and blocks. When you're doing that, those penalties and turnovers are amplified."

The Bobcats (7-1, 5-1 HAAC) are a dark horse contender in the conference race, having been picked sixth in the pre-season coaches' poll.

"They're playing hard, playing fast and playing with confidence," Troth observed. "They're playing so much better defensively."

Peru State's 3-4 defense is as aggressive as the Vikings', and is second in the loop in yardage allowed (312.9 per game) and third in scoring (23.9).

"They do a lot of stunting, a lot of movement," Troth said. "There's a lot of similarities with what we do."

Meanwhile, the Bobcats' offense has nothing in common with Valley's, or anybody else's in the league.

"It's the only true option we see all year," Troth said. "They're running it better and better each game."

That's why Peru State is fourth in the nation in rushing (306.6 ypg), with sophomore quarterback Tyler Audsley and sophomore fullback Ethan Bray accounting for over 200 yards per game between them.

Despite the offensive woes, there's nothing wrong with the Vikings (5-2, 5-1) on defense, residing in the customary No. 1 spot in the HAAC (216.1 ypg) -- allowing nearly 100 yards per game fewer than the second team on the list -- and best in the NAIA against the run (63.9 ypg).

Something's got to give.

"If it was a traditional offense, you could say it's strength versus strength, but with an option you can't say that," Troth observed. "We have to play good assignment football and make sure we have all three options covered."

In other words, more react than attack, the latter being Valley's preferred approach.

Whatever the strategy, it's got to work, the Vikings finding themselves in the rare role of underdogs.

"We know the situation," Troth admitted. "Whether we're ranked ahead of them or behind them, it wouldn't change the circumstances. We need to win this."

Contact Chris Allen at callen@marshallnews.com

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