Even though the Ichabod defenders practice pass defense with the goal of surrounding the football, they can get caught off guard when they come up with an interception in a game situation.
“They surprise you,” said junior linebacker Willie Williams (pictured at left). “Your feet start moving but my mind is still. But by the time I get the ball and take a few steps, I’m an offensive player.”
Junior cornerback Devon Connors also is surprised when he catches a pass meant for a receiver. He’s been able to turn that around quickly after his four career picks.
“I’m thinking end zone each time I get one,” he said.
Both players have two interceptions this year and both of them returned one for touchdowns October 13 against Truman. Williams’ came in the second quarter and gave Washburn a 14-3 lead while Connors’ came late in the game, helping Washburn eventually pull away to a 35-24 win.
The two players, along with head coach Craig Schurig, credit the defensive coaches for making pass defense a priority.
“Our coaches have done a real good job with that,” Schurig said. “We’re doing things a little bit different with our coverage scheme. We’ve focused on practice and our work teams are a little more competitive than last year. That turns the competition up.”
“We make plays in practice,” Williams said. “Last year we may have dropped some balls. Now every practice is treated like a game situation.”
The Ichabods lead the MIAA in pass defense, allowing just 174.2 yards a game through the air and they’re third in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
They’re third in the conference with 13 interceptions. Five of their eight opponents have been kept to under 200 yards passing and none have thrown for 250 yards yet this year.
Last year’s defense gave up 240 yards a game to rank seventh in the conference. Along with coaching, Connors also credits Washburn’s depth for this year’s success.
“Last year we were buried back in pass defense,” he said. “This year, with great depth, it’s been a lot better. When somebody’s gone down, it’s been the next guy getting up this year.”
Williams credits the strong group of linebackers he’s played with for multiple years. Among those are Bryce Atagi and Jahmil Taylor.
“We all came in together,” Williams said. “The maturity of our defense and our chemistry has really helped.”
The Ichabods have been able to make the most of their game preparation and they’ve made opposing offenses pay when they get in the way of a pass.
“When watching film, you know what to expect,” Connors said. “It’s a read process you take before the play happens.”
Williams also agrees. “Listen to their scheme and we’ll come up with the ball,” he said. “They’re smart and good things will happen when we surround the ball.”
Though they may be shocked, don’t be surprised if the Ichabods are able to cut off a Northwest Missouri pass today and return it for a touchdown.