Run defense could be key in Morgan State's conference opener this Saturday

Morgan State’s defense was solid against the run last season, a middle-of-the-road unit that finished 78th nationally after allowing an average of 177.7 yards in 2012. This year’s unit, however, has strayed from that path.

The Bears are surrendering 303.0 rushing yards per game this fall, which ranks 115th among 122 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision. Sixteen of their opponents' 20 touchdowns have been running scores.

“We continue to look at it – from scheme to personnel,” coach Donald Hill-Eley said Tuesday during a conference call. “On defense, you’ve got to tackle. So we’ve got to make our tackles, we’ve got to be in the right place. Going out against those teams that were really good at running the ball, we definitely understand that defense wins championships. So there’s no way that we can pursue one of those if we’re giving up 300 yards on the ground. So we have to be able to stop the run.”

In Army’s 28-12 victory on Aug. 30, the Black Knights rushed for 295 yards, and quarterback Angel Santiago scored three rushing touchdowns. In Liberty’s 38-10 Sept. 14 rout, the Flames had 330 yards on the ground and scored on five runs.

And in Western Kentucky’s 58-17 blowout Saturday, the Hilltoppers gained 377 rushing yards, and running back Anthony Andrews finished with 213 yards and five touchdowns.

Norfolk State coach Pete Adrian, whose Spartans (0-3) will face the host Bears in Hughes Stadiumon Saturday, said Morgan State’s slate of opponents should be taken into consideration.

“You have to be able to do both, but you have to look at the level of competition,” Adrian said Tuesday. “Army does nothing but run the football. Western Kentucky runs the football. Liberty runs the football. They played a lot of good football teams, and that’s the highlight of what they’re going to do. So you really can’t judge them. You have to see what happens this week. That will determine how a lot of the teams are going to be.”

The Bears might get a breather against Norfolk State, which is averaging just 77.3 rushing yards and has yet to score a touchdown on the ground. But Hill-Eley said the defense should expect a lot of Spartans carries.

“We haven’t been that good at stopping the run, and we know any team that’s successful has to be able to stop the run, and I’m quite sure from the stats, they’re looking at how to attack us,” Hill-Eley said. “It wouldn’t take anyone with [a degree in] rocket science to know that you’ve got to come in and see if we’ve fixed the problem we have.”

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