Still Undefeated: 20-7 Victory Over Cornell Pushes to 4-0

Devan Schulte, Sport Writer

The year 1997 is the last time a Bison football team has started the season 4-0, and just the second time since 1954. Actually, in 1997, the football team ended up with a 10-0 record before losing in the Patriot League championship. But the 2014 team can get over the hump in its search for conference dominance, and head coach Joe Susan is leading the charge.

“Our program prides itself on being selfless, accountable, and mentally tough. Saying it is one thing; living it is another,” Susan said.

Susan and the rest of the Bison coaches prepared this team even before the season began, and the results have clearly proved training to be effective. The offense has had an explosiveness it hasn’t seen in a decade thanks to the emergence of R.J. Nitti ’17, C.J. Williams ’17, and the veteran offensive line. No Bison offense has averaged even close to 30 points per game on this side of the millennium, but that’s exactly where Susan’s offense is at right now.

“Our QB R.J. Nitti continues to improve with each game. He has become much more poised in the pocket and has the arm strength to push the ball down the field. He does a lot at the line of scrimmage both in the run game and with protections. He is a dedicated student-athlete and works hard to study the game,” Susan said.

Nitti has thrown for 931 yards and 10 touchdowns through just four games, and the 10 touchdowns is already the most for a Bison quarterback since 2008. Protecting the football is a large focus on this offense, and with just two interceptions, Nitti has been able to keep the ball in the offense’s hands despite having a strong big-play ability.

“We have been effective with our deep balls. This helps our run game. The performances of Will Carter ’17, Bobby Kaslander ’16, and Jake Hartman ’15 create a dilemma for defenses as they must decide who and what they want to try to take away,” Susan said.

One of major proponents of this balanced Bison attack is the running game, and due to the passing firepower, there is often plenty of room for the running backs to run. A dual-headed monster formed in the backfield, with running backs Williams and Matt DelMauro ’16 combining for 857 offensive yards and seven touchdowns. Both have had their fair share of explosiveness as well. Thirteen offensive plays have gone for at least 25 yards.

“We have been fortunate to be balanced offensively and been able to run the ball effectively. Our offensive line is experienced and that means a lot as we face a variety of defensive schemes and pressures. C.J. Williams has continued to develop as a very good running back in this league. Matt DelMauro has been very effective as well. It is great to have two running backs that can produce,” Susan said. 

An offense can only be as strong as its offensive line, and this experienced offensive line has shown nothing but results. Led by Lonnie Rawles ’15, Brandon Noblett ’15, and Nevin Hagman ’15, both the passing and running games have been able to excel thanks to the protection in the pocket for Nitti and the lanes that open up for Williams and DelMauro. Nitti has been sacked a league-low six times this season. Towering above opposing defensive lines, this year’s offensive line averages 6’4” and 300 pounds between the starters. 

The second-best scoring offense in the Patriot League packs a punch, but it wouldn’t nearly be as successful if it didn’t have the defense pitching in as well to put the ball back into the hands of the offense and keep opponents off the scoreboard. This Bison defense, allowing just 16.2 points per game this season, has a strong reason to be feared by opposing coaches. The last time the football team allowed less than 17 points per game over the course of a season was in 2001, but Susan has brought back a mentality of a tough defense that can help win games. Stopping the run has been the main approach for the Bison, and they have been one of the best in the nation at doing just that.

“Our approach defensively begins with stopping the run. We have been fortunate to be able to do this, and this results with offensive teams being off schedule in terms of down and distance and having to move the ball through the air. The play of Evan Byers ’15, Lee Marvel ’15, Demetrius Baldwin-Youngblood ’15, and Jimmy King ’16 has been consistent,” Susan said. 

Byers and Marvel are just two of three seniors (along with Patrick Kelly ’15) to have played in all 37 games of their careers, and those two linebackers, paired with a big defensive line, have limited every single team’s rushing attack in 2014. Byers leads the team with 52 total tackles (31 unassisted), Marvel has 32 tackles of his own, and Baldwin-Youngblood’s four sacks lead all Bison. Preventing opposing offenses from crossing the line-of-scrimmage, 29 plays have been stopped for negative yardage.

The biggest stat for this Bison defense? It has only allowed one rushing touchdown this year, tied for second-best in the FCS. Even with all of the emphasis on the rush defense, the secondary has done a quality job of limiting the passing game.

“Our ability to stop the run helps the second and third levels of our defense. We have improved our coverage concepts and simplified the things that we do. The confidence our secondary plays with is credited to their preparation. Clayton Ewell ’16 and Louis Taglianetti ’16 have been very good throughout the early part of our season,” Susan said. 

Turnover margin has always been a focus for this Bison team, and the defense has five interceptions compared to just two thrown. Ewell leads the team with three interceptions and four pass deflections.

The Bison know that their future is in their own hands. The Patriot League slate is always competitive, but this year’s team certainly has the talent, mentality, and coaching to come out of it unscathed.

“I keep telling our players that each team is its own separate entity. The young men on this team have worked very hard in the classroom, in the weight room, and on the practice field. It translates into the opportunity to be successful during games. Each team I have been involved with has been a pleasure to work with. I am privileged to coach them and have a chance to be a part of their lives [as] they are very much a part of mine,” Susan said.

“It is priceless having backs that you know will fight for every yard because it pushes you to do everything you can so they can get those yards.” – OL Lonnie Rawles ’15

“The O-line is a huge part of the success of our run game and offense as a whole. It’s a group of guys with a lot of experience that work well together, and it clearly shows on the field. They make my job a lot easier.” – RB Matt DelMauro ’16

“I love the other receivers. I have never laughed so hard in a meeting before than when I am in position meetings with them. Also, on the field I trust them completely. I trust them to make the play when it needs to be made. We have fun whether it’s on the field or off.” – WR Josh Brake ’15

“We all work as one.” – RB C.J. Williams ’17

By The Numbers:

Teams in Patriot League: 7

Teams in FCS: 121

Bison offense:
• Scoring Offense: 30 points per game (second in PL, 45th in FCS)
• 17 touchdowns (T-second in PL, 39th in FCS)
• 414.5 yards per game (third in PL, 42nd in FCS)
• 6.8 yards per play (first in PL, ninth in FCS)
• 5.2 rushing yards per carry (second in PL, 22nd in FCS)
• 239.8 passing yards per game (second in PL, 36th in FCS)
• 10 passing touchdowns (second in PL, T-14th in FCS)
• 14.75 passing yards per completion (first in PL, eighth in FCS)
• 157.3 Passing Efficiency (first in PL, eighth in FCS)
• Six Sacks allowed (first in PL, T-35th in FCS)
Bison Defense:
• Scoring Defense: 16.2 points allowed per game (second in PL, T-12th in FCS)
• Eight touchdowns allowed (T-second in PL, T-14th in FCS)
• 273 yards allowed per game (first in PL, eighth in FCS)
• 4.2 yards allowed per play (first in PL, T-seventh in FCS)
• 85 rushing yards allowed per game (first in PL, sixth in FCS)
• 2.4 rushing yards allowed per attempt (first in PL, sixth in FCS)
• One rushing touchdown allowed (first in PL, T-second in FCS)
• Five Interceptions (second in PL, T-22nd in FCS)
• 3.3 sacks per game (first in PL, T-ninth in FCS)
• +.75 turnover margin per game (second in PL, T-21st in FCS) 


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