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Muhlenberg College

Thursday, November 15, 2007

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football aims to ground high-flying gulls

It won’t be a day at the beach when the Muhlenberg football team encounters a flock of Sea Gulls at Scotty Wood Stadium on Saturday.

The Centennial Conference-champion Mules (10-0) host the Salisbury Sea Gulls (9-1) in the
Dustin Good
Senior linebacker Dustin Good leads Muhlenberg with 55 total tackles and 15 tackles for loss.
first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament, with kickoff scheduled for 12:00. The winner goes on to play the winner of the game between Hampden-Sydney and Wesley next Saturday. If Wesley wins, it will host the second-round game, but if Hampden-Sydney wins, the winner of the Muhlenberg-Salisbury game will host.

Of the 16 first-round contests, the one between the Mules and Sea Gulls shapes up as the most intriguing. Even the pollsters can’t figure out which is the better team: In the American Football Coaches Association poll, Muhlenberg is ninth and Salisbury 12th, but in the D3football.com poll, the Sea Gulls are 10th and the Mules are 13th.

Salisbury brings in an offense the likes of which Muhlenberg hasn’t seen this year, both in style and potency. The Sea Gulls are sixth in Division III in scoring, averaging 41.8 points per game, and their triple-option attack has produced the second-best rushing attack in Division III, with 340.8 yards per game on the ground. Four Salisbury players have rushed for more than 500 yards this season, and although the Sea Gulls average fewer than 10 passes a game, they are very efficient through the air, averaging 20.9 yards per completion.

“It’s all assignments,” said Mule junior nose tackle William Moates of the Salisbury offense. “If we do our assignments, we’ll be fine. When we watch film, we saw that the good defenses they played were able to stop it, or at least slow it down.”

Muhlenberg has a pretty good defense. The Mules are second in Division III in scoring
Jamar Garner
Salisbury senior slotback Jamar Garner is averaging 14.1 yards per carry and has scored 12 touchdowns on only 53 rushing attempts.
defense (7.5 points per game), total defense (168.7 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense (73.2 rating) and eighth in rushing defense (62.9 yards per game). Muhlenberg has allowed more than one touchdown only twice this year and is holding opponents to 2.1 yards per carry.

The top offense the Mules faced during the season was Gettysburg’s, at 420.3 yards per game. Muhlenberg held the Bullets to 246 total yards in a 14-13 win. Salisbury’s lone loss (20-13) was to a Wesley squad that is 11th in Division III in total defense.

Although the matchup between the Sea Gull offense and the Mule defense screams out, both squads are effective on the other side of the ball. Salisbury is 45th in Division III in total defense and has not allowed more than 21 points. The Sea Gulls are seventh in the country with nearly 10 tackles for loss per game.

The Muhlenberg offense, meanwhile, is 16th in the country in pass efficiency and has scored at least four touchdowns in seven straight games. The balanced attack averages 185.3 yards rushing and 199.1 yards passing per game.

Two areas in which the squads differ greatly are turnover margin and time of possession. Muhlenberg is plus-14 in turnovers (16th in Division III), and Salisbury is even. The Sea Gulls rank 210th out of 231 Division III teams with 15 fumbles lost. The Mules have an advantage of almost 10 minutes in average time of possession (34:53 vs. 25:07), while Salisbury averages only 27 minutes of possession.

Salisbury is 5-5 all-time in NCAA playoff games, although it has not won a game since reaching the final in 1986. Muhlenberg is 1-3, with its lone win coming at home against Mass.-Dartmouth in a 2002 first-round game.

The teams will also be playing for conference pride. Salisbury represents the Atlantic Central Football Conference, which has sent a team (Wesley) to the national semifinals the last two years. Muhlenberg’s Centennial Conference, on the other hand, has lost five straight NCAA games, the last three by at least 25 points.

“I think everyone is pretty excited to show that the Centennial Conference isn’t just an academic conference and that we’re not pushovers,” said Moates. “We’ll be ready to play.”

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