Coming out of a bye week, the Waynesburg University football team has the best team in the PAC visiting Greene County this Saturday.
To illustrate how good Case Western Reserve is, the Spartans could drop their remaining two games at Waynesburg and Carnegie Mellon University, and still win the conference championship outright, so long as Carnegie Mellon loses to Westminster Saturday.
With the Yellow Jackets facing another tough assignment next week in the annual rivalry game against Washington & Jefferson, head coach Chris Smithley understands how difficult it will be to get another win before the final curtain draws on the 2019 season.
For Smithley, the bye week gave his team a chance to energize for the two perennial powers ahead of it.
“We’re resetted a little bit, and play a two week season here,” Smithley said. “We have two really good opponents left, which we’re looking forward to testing our abilities against. The mindset that we had going into this is that ‘it’s a two week season, let’s finish the right way.’”
Crazy on Drew
When thinking about Case Western from a personnel standpoint, the words Drew and Saxton are probably the first to come to mind.
Only a sophomore, Saxton has already established himself as one of the PAC’s finest. At South Fayette High School, Saxton ended his career second in WPIAL history with 94 touchdown passes, so it’s no surprise that head coach Greg Debelijak named him the starting quarterback right away last season. Since then, the Spartans have won 16 games and lost just two.
Although Case Western’s success in the Saxton era can be attributed to his defense—the Spartans have the PAC’s top three leaders in sacks—Saxton has been excellent individually, leading the conference in total offense and total touchdowns , while currently sitting second in passing efficiency.
“He’s still a young quarterback, and he’s a special player,” Smithley said. “He has a lot of abilities, and I just think that he’s expanding a lot in what he’s doing offensively from a growth standpoint.”
To limit Saxton, the Jackets will depend on their pass defense, which has been one of the team’s few bright spots this season. The Jackets allow just 89.6 yards per game through the air, which tops the PAC.
Because of Saxton’s abilities, Case Western loves to throw the football.
The Spartans are second in the PAC in pass attempts, and Saxton leads the conference with 21 touchdowns through the air.
Case Western is pass-heavy and is just eighth in the PAC in rushing. The Spartans’ leading runner, Zach Hall, averages just 59 yards per game.
Despite what the numbers indicate, Smithley wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spartans go to the ground Saturday. Part of that could be because Waynesburg’s run defense ranks dead last in the PAC, giving up 275 yards per game.
“I think that they’re going to put an emphasis on the run game,” he said. “This is an opportunity for them to come here and try to put a bunch of yards up on the ground. I think that knowing that our defense [is] prepared for that mindset, and we’re going to treat it just like anything else. We’re going to [have to] stop the run, and force them into being one dimensional.”
Although Smithley is wary of Case Western’s rushing attack, he also knows the Jackets must win one-on-one matchups with Case Western’s talented receivers, such as Colt Morgan, who leads the conference in most receiving categories.
“We have to win those individual battles on both sides of the line and in skill positions,” he said. “We have to will some things to happen and get the ball to roll our way.”
Expecting the unexpected
At 1-7 overall and 1-6 in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, Waynesburg comes into this game against the PAC’s top dog with nothing to lose. For Smithley, however, waking up Saturday morning with an underdog mindset won’t do the team any good.
“We have to prepare this week and expect to win this game,” Smithley said. “We can’t go into this game with a mindset of ‘well this team is undefeated, they’re a really good team, let’s just go give it our all.’ I don’t think that’s what we can take into this game. We have to go into this game expecting to win.”