Bulldog football hopes for a defensive resurgence in 2017

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The UMD football team is coming off a season in which the defense allowed a school-record 33.1 points per game. The defense has looked improved over the first few weeks of the season despite the graduation of inside linebacker Beau Bates. Junior linebacker Gus Wedig has played a big role in turning the defense around after Bates’ departure.

“It’s definitely tough. Beau Bates is the best football player I’ve ever played with, but I feel like we’ve adapted now,” Wedig said. “Instead of trying to replace him, we’ve created new types of formations, a new type of defense that will help.”

While Bates mostly played middle linebacker, Wedig plays more like an outside linebacker. His ability to run from sideline to sideline allows his coaches to devise different schemes to apply pressure on the offense.

“They’re putting me outside of the box where I can cover and then fold in late to make any sort of clean-up type tackles,” said Wedig. “You’ve got to give thanks to Zach Bassuener, Dre Greer, Karl Finkel, those guys up front do their job to perfection so it helps me out with just getting a good, clear picture.”

As talented as Bates was on the field, he also left behind a leadership void that needed to be filled if the Bulldogs defense hoped to be competitive this season. Wedig said that the most experienced players on the defense stepped up in that role.

“It kind of figured its way out with the captains, with Bassuener being a captain on the defensive side,” he said. “He’s definitely like a Beau Bates where he leads by example, doesn’t need to say much but in the weight room, behind closed doors, he’s putting in the extra work like Beau Bates. I’d say vocally that I kind of took that role on my shoulders as well.”

UMD’s defense has looked better so far this season, creating turnovers, getting key stops, and giving up fewer points per game. However, Wedig has noticed some costly mistakes in the first few games.

“Against Upper Iowa we had some mental mistakes that cost us big plays, and that can’t happen,” he said. “When we stay consistent, we’re locked in and we’re a very good defense and it’s exciting to see. We’re focusing on staying locked in the whole game, no mental lapses, and being perfect.”

The Bulldogs transition to becoming a better defense will be one of the biggest storylines for the 2017 season. With a younger starting quarterback on the offensive side of the ball, there will be more pressure on the defense to get key stops and get off the field quickly, but Wedig is confident in the team’s abilities.

“We try to bait these guys into beating us with the pass because if we stop the run, we’ll make them a one dimensional team,” Wedig said. “I think our goal is just to shut the run game down and make them beat us with the pass because we’ve got great experience back there at safety and cornerback. I’ve got full confidence that we’ll be a lock-down defense for the rest of the year.”

The Bulldogs will travel to Wayne, Nebraska for a showdown against NSIC rival Wayne State on Sept. 23.

 

Photo courtesy of Brett Groehler

SportsTyler Schendel