Juniata’s 3-1 overall record and 2-1 mark in the Centennial Conference usually would be more than enough to get the attention of the Johns Hopkins football team. But there is another reason why the No. 14 Blue Jays (4-0, 3-0) are intently studying Saturday’s opponent.
The Eagles offense is led by quarterback Ward Udinski, who leads the league in passing with 1,085 yards and 10 touchdowns against just one interception. The junior is also the team’s leading rusher with 45 carries for 179 yards and five scores.
Of course, Udinski is aided by a pair of wide receivers in junior Isaiah Slutter (25 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns) and freshman Aaron O’Brien (11 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns), but Johns Hopkins’ focus has been on Udinski.
“Their offense runs through Ward, without question,” coach Jim Margraff said Thursday. “They’ll use him like a tailback. They’ll run a ton of quarterback draw, quarterback power, quarterback iso. And he throws the ball extremely well. He’s a tough kid. He is the face of their offense and the face of their team. We’ll attack him the way we attack every offense, but he is an exceptional player that you’ve got to have an answer for.”
The Blue Jays got a primer on how to limit a dual-threat quarterback in last Saturday’s 45-13 thumping of Muhlenberg. Freshman quarterback Nick Palladino, who leads the Mules in passing and rushing, had just 35 yards on 14 carries and was sacked four times while completing 16 of 31 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown.
Asked whether the defense is more likely to shade to the pass than the run against Udinski, Margraff said, “It comes more situationally and through personnel groupings. There’s enough there for us to set a strong game plan. He’s exceptional, but we’ve faced other guys like him before. Quite honestly, last week was good preparation because Muhlenberg does a really nice job with their quarterback both in the run and pass game, too.”
Defenses tend to leave a spy — a linebacker tasked with eyeballing the quarterback even on passing downs — against a passer who can run. Margraff said Johns Hopkins has that ability, but wouldn’t say whether the defense would automatically employ that strategy.
“I think a lot of defenses will do that,” he said. “And we’ll have a package like that in there for him. I think the most important thing is to switch it up. We’ll have several guys with that ability this week.”