BY EMILEE WOLF | The Statesman After a 1-2 start, the Bulldog football team has won four consecutive games with the help of an improved defensive unit.
Losing two of the first three games of the season was hard for the Bulldogs, and especially the defensive unit, to stomach. Defensive Coordinator John Steger, having been with the Bulldogs for 14 years, admits that this year has been unlike most.
“We came into the season with a very inexperienced group,” Steger said. “With only four of the previous starters returning to the field, the Bulldog defense were faced with the challenge of building a defensive line from the ground up.”
Senior captain and nose tackle John Harden agreed with Steger.
“It’s a weird year, for sure. From the beginning we were focused on having good solid practices every day so the young guys could get the hang of it,” Harden said.
As the season progressed, the Bulldog defense has been able to improve by learning from their mistakes.
“Mentally, we are a better and stronger defense than we were at the beginning of the season. That’s what has got us to where we are today,” senior captain linebacker Brent Stiglich said.
Heading into the season, a big challenge the Bulldog defense faced was their size -- or lack thereof.
“Our guys are a lot smaller compared to some of the people we are up against, but we try not to let that stop us from playing our game,” Harden said.
Harden mentioned sophomore defensive lineman Karl Finkel and freshman linebacker Gus Wedig as two members of the team who consistently show that size is no obstacle.
“Work ethic from younger guys like that is part of the reason we’re becoming successful as a whole unit,” Harden said.
Without a lot of size, the Bulldog defense has relied on speed to become one of the stronger defensive units in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, ranking No. 2 in the conference in points allowed (18.1).
“Our D-Line is so explosive and quick. We have it in our heads that there is no guy too big for us to take down,” Stiglich said.
Regardless of who they’re playing, the defensive coaching staff continually emphasize the importance of consistency throughout games.
“We have had success here because we treat every game the same. It’s our job as coaches to show these guys that,” Steger said.
This sentiment also extends to the players.
“It’s all about pride. We don’t care if a team is 6-0 or 0-6, we’re still trying to beat ‘em by 60,” Harden said.
Harden and the rest of the Bulldogs will try for their fifth consecutive win this weekend when they face the University of Minnesota Crookston (0-7), on Saturday at James S. Malosky stadium.