The offense is averaging a healthy 31 points and 518 yards, but it’s the play of the defense that has staked Johns Hopkins to a 2-0 start.
The Blue Jays rank 13th in Division III in total defense, surrendering an average of just 204 yards. The unit is eighth in the country against the run as opponents are averaging just 44 yards.
The graduation of linebacker Taylor Maciow, the Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Year, was thought to be a concern for Johns Hopkins, but coach Jim Margraff said the return of nine starters from last season has fortified the defense.
“We returned a great number of players from last year – all of our defensive linemen, our starting linebackers,” Margraff said Wednesday morning. “We lost the Defensive Player of the Year, but he got hurt against McDaniel in the last game. So the other guys have had some good experience. We’re very fast on defense, we’re very aggressive, and hopefully, there’s a culture there and an expectation to play well. We’re off to a good start.”
Margraff said the strength of the defense is its speed. That element has helped the unit rank fourth in the nation in sacks with 6 1/2 per game.
“Most of our linebackers and defensive ends were running backs in high school, that type of athlete,” Margraff pointed out. “So we’ve got a fair amount of athleticism defensively. We’re not the biggest group, but we have speed and athleticism there.”
Junior defensive end Michael Longo leads the team in that department, collecting 3½ sacks after finishing with 5 1/2 in 2012. Margraff said Longo and junior defensive end Matthew Connery (two sacks and 12 tackles) have generated a pass rush off the edges, making it difficult for opponents to lock in on a specific target.
“He’s a very good player, but both of our defensive ends – Matt Connery had 10 tackles last week and was the Defensive Player of the Week in our conference – I think one feeds off of the other,” Margraff said. “It’s tough to pick a side to go after because they’re both very talented.”