Football ECAC Bowl Game Preview

Friday, November 22, 2013
 

Chris Litzenberger, who often views the action on the football field from between his legs, is part of a Muhlenberg offense that has turned preseason expectations upside down.

Joe Carlucci
Senior Joe Carlucci, who was a perfect 6-for-6 for 109 yards and two touchdowns in relief against Moravian last week, started last year's ECAC South Atlantic Bowl against Delaware Valley and threw two long touchdown passes.
After the Mules graduated some of the top performers in program history at quarterback, running back and wide receiver and returned only three offensive starters, the prevailing thought was that the veteran defense would have to carry the team in 2013.

So what happened? Muhlenberg has its most prolific offense in more than a decade.

The Mules (8-2) will bring that offense into tomorrow’s home ECAC South Atlantic Bowl game against Salisbury (6-4). Making their 10th postseason appearance in 14 years, they are seeking their first playoff win since defeating Salisbury at home in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The Sea Gulls, meanwhile, are in the postseason for the 10th straight year, including a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2011.

Muhlenberg comes into the game averaging more than 35 points per game, something it has not done for an entire season since 2002. In their last four games, the Mules are averaging 470.5 yards.

Joe Hogh
Senior Joe Hogh ran 45 yards on a fake punt to set up a field goal in last week's game against Moravian. In the 2012 ECAC South Atlantic Bowl, the Mules tried two onside kicks and a fake punt.
“In our first four or five games we really came together with guys who had athletic ability but not experience,” said Litzenberger, a receiver who has doubled as the team’s long snapper for the last four years. “That gave them time to settle in and helped us get on this run that we’re on now.”

Besides the names, the other big change on offense is the shift to a more pass-oriented offense. The Mules were about 50-50 in running and passing yardage for their first three years running a spread offense. This season, more than 60 percent of their total yardage has come through the air.

For the first time since 1999, the Mules have four players with at least 25 catches. That includes Litzenberger, who has 25 receptions after catching a total of 10 passes in his first three seasons.

“I don’t mind blocking – that’s what got me on the field last year,” he said. “But catching the ball is definitely more fun.”

To be successful tomorrow, Muhlenberg must make sure its receivers are the ones catching the ball. The Sea Gulls are third in Division III with 21 interceptions, and they are also stingy against the run – they are one of only 19 teams in Division III allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground.

Kory Crichton
Senior Kory Crichton, the Mules' fourth-leading tackler, recorded six tackles, one for loss, in last year's ECAC South Atlantic Bowl against Delaware Valley.
Salisbury’s offense offers a contrast in style to Muhlenberg’s. The Sea Gulls have a triple-option attack that averages 290.2 rushing yards per game (eighth in Division III) and rolled up 482 yards on the ground in last week’s 70-14 win against Frostburg State. Salisbury has attempted only 90 passes all season, and its offense will be unlike anything the Mules have seen this year.

“Our offense was trying to replicate it with our scout team, and it was hard to wrap our heads around it at first,” said Litzenberger. “As the week has gone on we’ve been able to give our defense better looks.”

The Muhlenberg defense has allowed only one rushing touchdown in its current six-game winning streak and ranks 16th in Division III by allowing only 13.9 points per game.

On special teams, Salisbury is seventh in Division III in net punting (36.8 yards per kick), while the Mules are eighth in punt returns (17.3 yards per return).

With both teams solid on offense, defense and special teams, the matchup promises to be a good one. Salisbury’s 6-4 record is as deceptive as its offense aims to be – two of its losses were to NCAA Tournament teams (30-27 to Wesley on a last-minute Hail Mary and 24-23 to Ithaca on a missed extra point in overtime), and it defeated NCAA invitee St. John Fisher. The Sea Gulls were ranked in the top 25 in Division III as recently as four weeks ago.

“They’re a very sound, athletic and physical team,” said Litzenberger. “We have to be ready to execute at a high level.”