Northwest preview: Defense to lead

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There are many questions pending for the Griffons heading into their rivalry week.
According to Griffon Coach Jerry Partridge, one spot where the Griffons are very confident is in their defense.
“Every week we ask our defense to shut them out,” Partridge said.
They are veteran-laden and can boost All-MIAA level players at all levels of the defense.
For the Griffons, it all starts with their linebacker corps. Thanks to their 3-4 alignment, they are able to put four of their top athletes on the field.
Yomi Alli is the unquestioned leader of the defense, as Partridge affectionally refers to him as ‘the old man.’ Alli has been on campus for six years and has felt like a leader his entire career. The defense starts with him.
“Alli continues to play at a really high level,” Partridge said.
Darrian Bass and Cody Lindsay anchor the outside linebackers, while Jorge Belcher joins Alli in the middle.
Tyrell Robison provides strong depth as he filled in for Belcher last week as Belcher was injured.
“I’ve been doubting Tyrell Robison, if he could do it mentally,” Partridge said. “He showed me he could do it on Saturday.”
With Robison now more proven, it allows the coaching staff to rotate at the linebacker spot and keep starters fresh.
The cornerback position boasts potential future-pro Mike Jordan. Due to lack of depth, Jordan has been bouncing between safety and corner.
Sam Brown bookends Jordan and is an above-average MIAA corner.
Thanks to the skills of their corners, this allows safeties Donte Watkins and Jonathan Owens to just focus on the middle of the find.
They have more slot coverage responsibility because the Griffons like to keep their best 11 players on the field and they stay in their base defense regardless of the offense’s personnel.
Arbanas Elliot, Daylon Harper and Richard Obi all provide anchors on the defensive line and eat blockers to provide linebackers space.
All this adds up to the second-rated defense in the MIAA.
“Our defense has no reason to lose any swag,” Partridge said. “They are still battling and getting after it.”
Unfortunately for the Griffons, the Bearcats have the best defense in the conference with 12.3 points-per-games compared to the Griffons’ 19.4.
“Their D-line is their typical D-line,” Partridge said. “They come off the ball, they are physical and collapse the pocket, which doesn’t bode well.”
It is also a bad time for the Western offense to face this defense.
Western is hoping starting quarterback Skyler Windmiller can return from a thumb injury this week in time for Saturday.
“Optimistically looking at (getting Windmiller back),” Partridge said. “That will help us a lot to have Skyler in there.”
Windmiller’s addition would be huge for the struggling Griffon offense that only managed three very late points last week against an Emporia State defense, without near the reputation of the Northwest defense.
“What’s happening is they are blitzing like crazy on first and second down and their saying, ‘Hey, throw it,’ and we are not getting it done,” Partridge said.
One player to watch against the Bearcats is senior running back Raphael Spencer.
Spencer has been plagued by a fumbling habit lately but the former first team All-MIAA back is capable of a breakout performance any week.
“He’s always carried the ball precariously,” Partridge said. “Raphael is really running hard. Raphael is going to have a couple more 100-yard games. I just hope one of them is Saturday, that would really help our cause.”
Western attempts to pull an upset that would rock the Division-II world on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“This is what you do it for,” Partridge said. “You sign up for 11 ballgames.”