Football looks to improve in 2011

By Greg Stevenson

Senior Writer

After finishing last season with a five-game losing streak and a 1-10 record overall under the helm of first-year head coach Joe Susan, the Bison football program returns to the field this season with many unknowns and without high expectations.

With a year of experience behind Susan and an opportunity to buck the trend of losing seasons, the Orange and Blue are poised to turn the program around and put together a memorable 2011 campaign. Despite all the uncertainties about how the Bison will fare this year, Susan sees the continuity of the coaching staff as a huge factor in the Bison’s success.

“The important difference is that the men in our program have been around the coaching staff for a year and a half,” Susan said. “The other difference is that the recruited first-year players are men who went through the entire recruiting cycle with us. The importance of familiarity is that they know the staff better and are used to our way of doing things. The team is a year and a half stronger.”

With Duquesne and Marist coming to town in consecutive weekends, starting tomorrow, the Bison will have to be stronger than they were last year, as both schools beat the Orange and Blue last season. The rest of the schedule features three road, non-conference games against Ivy League schools, as well as the always-difficult six games against Patriot League opponents.

But the Orange and Blue have talented players returning on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Brandon Wesley ’14 should have better production offensively this season with a year of experience under his belt.

“Brandon has improved as a quarterback,” Susan said. “He has always been a great athlete and did a good job last year in learning the offense. He has much better pocket presence now and is more confident in looking downfield prior to leaving the pocket. Brandon will wind up being an important leader of our offense.”

While averaging over 150 yards of passing per game, Wesley threw nine interceptions to just six touchdowns last season and completed just 57 percent of his passes.

Often throwing under duress from the opponent’s defense, Wesley was sacked 38 times last season, nearly 3.5 times per game and twice the number of sacks recorded by the Bison defense. A veteran group of offensive linemen return as seniors, looking to give their young quarterback more time in the pocket to pass.

“We return five seniors on our offensive line and have more depth at that position than in the past,” Susan said.

Defensively, Susan believes the difference will also come from in the trenches.

“I feel that on defense, our difference makes will come from our defensive line,” Susan said. “We are fortunate to have two all-league players, Josh Eden ’12 and Robert De La Rosa ’12, return to the team.”

Combining for 8.5 sacks and 93 tackles last season, Eden and De La Rosa anchor a strong defensive front four. Seniors Sean Rafferty and Bryce Robertson in the defensive backfield and Tim Bolte as linebacker should also play big roles in stopping opposing offenses this year. After finishing last season last in the Patriot League in both points (28.2) and yards allowed per game (379.9), those playmakers must step up in order to solidify the defense and keep opponents out of the endzone.

The Orange and Blue look to avenge a 17-13 defeat to the Duquesne Dukes in last season’s opener and start the season on a high note with a victory, when they host the Dukes tomorrow at 6 p.m. An eager crowd should be on hand, as a win would be the first home victory for the Bison since their upset of Holy Cross to conclude their 2009 season.

 

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