BETHANY - With its two non-conference games completed, the Bethany College football team will set its sights on getting off to a good start in Presidents' Athletic Conference play when it travels for a 2 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Grove City.
The Bison go into the opener with a 0-2 record after coming up short in a 49-33 shootout at Randolph-Macon last week. Junior quarterback Matt Grimard accounted for 363 total yards after rushing for 124 and three touchdowns and throwing for another 239 and one TD. While the offense did put up 450 total yards, two costly turnovers gave the Yellow Jackets the ball inside the Bethany 20 twice and led directly to a pair of scores.
That was coupled with a Randolph-Macon offense that piled up 510 total yards, including 281 on the ground. Bison coach Tim Weaver did see some positives to take out from the setback, which included settling some personnel questions heading into conference play, but the defensive performance was one to forget.
''I thought we improved a great deal on offense and special teams and also solved a couple personnel situations, so there were plenty of positives to take from Saturday,'' Weaver said. ''But our defensive performance was as bad as we've had in our time here as a staff and that's all on me because I coach the defense. When you score 33 points, you have to make something happen to salvage that and win the football game.''
Entering this season, one of Bethany's main goals was to improve its effectiveness in the red zone. Last year, the Bison scored touchdowns on 52 percent of their trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line. This season has seen a complete reversal of fortune, as the Bison have posted touchdowns on all eight appearances. Weaver gives credit for the vast improvement to the focus of the players, as well the emergence of freshman kicker Justin Evans.
''This is no different than anything else in football that when you emphasize and work on something, you will get better,'' Weaver said. ''We talked about it throughout camp and the players have stepped up and focused on finishing drives. Also, although we haven't tried one yet, we have trust that we can make field goals with Justin. That takes some of the pressure off in trying to call the perfect play.''
While the Bison offense is executing at a high rate, the run defense is looking for answers after the first two weeks. In game one, Centre, led by QB Heath Haden with 151 yards, totaled 272 and four touchdowns on the ground, which was followed up by Randolph-Macon's 281 yards and three scores. Weaver said the issues were completely different from one week to the next, but regardless of the concern, they need to get it fixed before facing a Grove City team that features the top runner in the PAC in RB Steve Kaclik (379 yards, five TDs).
''They were two totally different problems,'' Weaver said. ''In the first week, we stopped the designed runs well, but quarterback scrambles accounted for more than half their yards. Last week, it came down to leverage on the ball and taking good pursuit angles. Give credit to Randolph-Macon because they ran (to the) weak (side) a lot, which they didn't do a lot of before. But it comes down to coaching and getting guys ready every week. If we don't find sounder fits and have a better technique taking angles to the ball, we will really struggle against Grove City because they are a good running football team.''
The Wolverines carry a 1-2 mark into this week's tilt and stand at 0-1 in the league following a 24-17 loss at Washington & Jefferson last week. Grove City led 10-7 at halftime, but the Presidents scored 14 points in the third quarter and 17 straight before a bad punt helped set up the final Wolverines score late in the fourth quarter. Kaclik continued his stellar start to the season with a career-high 161 yards and one TD on 23 carries, while the Wolverines defense, which limited W&J to 271 total yards, was led by LB Jason Skyrm with 12 tackles.