After watching tape of No. 5 Northwest Missouri State's 56-6 run-away against Washburn, No. 20 Emporia State might be more reluctant than usual about airing it out Saturday at Bearcat Stadium.
The Hornets own the MIAA's most prolific passing attack, but Northwest's defense ranks first league-wide against the pass and is coming off a game where it picked off a season-high six passes, raising its league-high total to 21.
That's six more than the Bearcats (8-1, 7-1) had last season when they were much more vulnerable to pass-happy teams like Emporia State (8-1, 8-1).
"I think we match up pretty well," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel. "The big thing is that our guys do their responsibility and I think sometimes that gets downplayed a little bit. On defense right now, I feel like we've got 11 guys that are doing their job, doing their 1/11th. It just all translates into not giving up big plays. It translates into being able to do some more zone because you can get pressure with four guys."
Northwest's secondary boasts four players among the top 15 in the MIAA in interceptions, led by senior safety Nate DeJong with five.
DeJong has at least one interception in each of Northwest's last four games, and the Bearcats have at least two in their last five.
Dorrel says the senior safety tandem of DeJong and Clarke Snodgrass, who had Northwest's first interception Saturday, deserves a lot of credit for their success defending the pass.
"We're just putting a lot on them," said Dorrel. "Those guys, they don't have a lot of time. Sometimes the checks are non-verbal communication, so they have to be efficient with it. If one of them is playing man coverage and the other one is playing zone, you're in trouble. This is their second year now. They just really trust each other and that's developed through hard work and film study."
Dorrel also says having two high-level corners like Brandon and Brian Dixon have freed up the safeties "to be more aggressive" and "take more calculated risks."
Brian nabbed his third interception of the year at Washburn and is just one behind his brother who had a pick-six called back Saturday.
Back-up corner/safety Travis Manning also has three interceptions this year, including two in the last three games.
Coming off its signature game, Northwest's secondary has its work cut out for them against Emporia, trying to limit a high-octane attack that centers around senior quarterback Tyler Eckenrode and the vaunted wide receiver tandem of Shjuan Richardson and Ray Ray Davis.
Eckenrode, a three-year starter, is the MIAA's leading passer with 312.0 yards per game, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Page 2 of 3 - Richardson is the MIAA leader in receiving yards (1,111), touchdowns (10) and receiving yards per game (123.4). Davis is sixth in the MIAA with 77.2 yards per game and has scored six touchdowns.
Before her team's home match with Missouri Western, Northwest Missouri State head volleyball coach Amy Phelps decided changes were in order.
She removed freshman setter Dallas Gardner from the starting lineup and replaced her with junior transfer Bridget Hanafin.
The Bearcats also switched from a 6-2 offense to a 5-1.
At least to this point, the moves have paid off.
The Bearcats (14-13, 8-6) swept Western and beat Lindenwood and Missouri Southern in four, giving them three straight wins following a six-game slide.
Northwest hit better than .240 against Missouri Western and Lindenwood, with Hanafin averaging 44 assists in the two matches.
She and Gardner played together against Southern, and Hanafin delivered a team-high 23 assists to Gardner's 17.
Schedule heats up
Northwest has compiled its current win steak against a collection of teams ranked ninth or below in the MIAA.
The schedule stiffens greatly over the final two weeks of the regular season, beginning tonight when the Bearcats host No. 6 Central Missouri for a 7 p.m. match at Bearcat Arena.
Central (20-4, 12-1) is tied with Nebraska-Kearney for first place in the MIAA and has won four straight.
The Jennies swept Northwest on Oct. 10 in Warrensburg 25-12, 25-16, 27-25—the second of Northwest's six consecutive losses and their 13th straight to Central.
Three weeks later, Phelps feels better about her team's chances of an upset.
"You know what they're about the second time," said Phelps. "They have a lot of tools and we have a couple of plans to shut down those tools. We have a couple things we felt like if we could've controlled a little better last time, we would've been in the match. We know our parts a little bit better now and our personalities. I think they know how their teammates are going to react. I just think we're going to respond better to Central."
The Jennies are the first of three teams Northwest faces over its final four matches that's ranked ahead of them in the conference.
Nebraska-Kearney and Truman are the others.
Northwest has yet to beat a team in the top six of the MIAA, and needs at least one upset to finish higher than .500 in the conference.
A 9-9 finish puts the Bearcats at risk of being a No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the MIAA Tournament.
"We have to start playing more consistent with those teams if we want to get by that first round," said Phelps. "I think it just really sharpens their minds to be ready. We need to step up and start taking sets off these teams for us to be able to step into that tournament and feel like we have a chance."
Page 3 of 3 - Cooper watch
Knee tendinitis limited Northwest Missouri State's starting point guard DeShaun Cooper to only 19 minutes of action in Monday's 91-58 exhibition loss to Missouri.
Head coach Ben McCollum said he isn't sure whether Cooper will be back at full strength for their Nov. 11 opener with Graceland.
"He's probably consulting with our trainers this afternoon," said McCollum. "We'll probably figure out where he's going to go from there."
Northwest has a scrimmage in between its exhibition and regular season openers.