Butler defense in midst of historic run

07/04/2014 10:50 AM

08/06/2014 12:05 PM

Wait, I was under the impression nobody in college football played defense these days. With spread offenses and other intricate ways of moving the ball down the field, steel-curtain defenses, I thought, were obsolete.

But the Butler Grizzlies are fighting that notion with one of the fastest and toughest defenses in junior-college football. Butler believes in defense — stresses it, even — and so far it has led the Grizzlies to an 8-1 record and a No. 4 ranking. Butler has already clinched another Jayhawk Conference championship and much of the reason for that is simple: In the age of offense, Butler defends.

"We take a lot of pride in it,'' Grizzlies defensive coordinator Tim Schaffner said. "We've got a great group of kids who believe in what we're doing and play with a lot of pride and passion.''

Pride and passion, I suppose, are partial explanations for some of Butler's incredible defensive numbers. There's obviously a lot of ability on that side of the ball, too.

In nine games, Grizzlies defenders have 41.5 sacks, have broken up 56 pass attempts and have deflected 62 other passes. They have 21 quarterback hurries, have recovered 12 fumbles and have picked off 12 passes. They have 108.5 tackles for loss and have limited opponents to a 22-percent success rate (30 of 138) on third down.

Best of all, Butler has allowed only 65 points, 7.2 per game.

Impressive stuff.

Butler is always impressive, though, which makes quantifying the strength of this team or any Grizzlies team difficult. When they're all fantastic, fantastic becomes the norm. It's a nice problem to have, if you want to really stretch and call consistent excellence a problem.

"At the end of the season we might be able to gain a little perspective on how good our defense has been this season,'' said Schaffner, in his sixth season at Butler. "These guys, they're going to be special when this is over. Statistically, they're the best.''

To combat the varied and high-powered offenses that are proliferating all levels of football and especially the college game, Schaffner and the rest of Butler's coaches adopted a different way of going about recruiting.

Stopwatches are important; scales not so much.

"We'll sacrifice some size for speed,'' Schaffner said. "Aside from us and maybe Fort Scott, there are really not many any teams in our conference that want to pound on you with a running game.''

Interesting, then, that Butler has been able to put together such an outstanding defensive team when the Grizzlies' offense relies heavily on a running game.

To that end, Schaffner gives Butler's offensive scout team — made up of reserves and players who are sitting out — much of the credit for the Grizzlies' defensive success.

While the Butler offense works on its running game, the scout team offense shows the first-team defense a variety of offenses, ranging from the spread to the I to the wishbone.

Mostly, though, it's the spread, which is utilized to try and give an offense as many one-on-one chances against defenders as possible.

"Offenses are turning things into basketball,'' Schaffner said. "You have your one-on-one matchups and you try to take someone on the dribble. We want to make sure we are good enough to stop that and if we do happen to miss, we want to have eight or nine other guys who can get to the football with a sense of urgency.''

It's those scout-team players who make sure the Butler defense is always sharp. And it's Schaffner, to his credit, who gives them credit.

"Scout teams normally get no praise at all,'' he said. "A lot of times those guys think they are castoffs, but here they're crucial to our success. That's hard for them to understand initially. But they are absolutely crucial.''

So much so that after Schaffner finishes giving Butler's defensive players a pat on the helmet or shoulder pads after a game, he searches out the players on the offensive scout team to let them know how much they meant to a successful game.

Butler's defense is an interesting mixture of local players and players from SEC country.

Linemen DeMarcus Lawrence (Aiken, S.C.), and Darrius McMullin (Birmingham, Ala.), linebackers Tommy Sanders (Cordell, Ga.) and Rahman Swain (Lithonia, Ga.) and defensive back Zach Miller (Duncan, S.C.) come from the deep South.

But linebacker Jeff Page (Andover Central), lineman Chaquil Reed (Wichita East) and defensive back Dylan Schellenberg (Maize) are home-grown products. Another key defender, lineman Bruce Campbell, is from Dodge City.

"We don't have that quote-unquote superstar,'' Schaffner said. "But what we have are 11 or 22 guys who are really going to go after it. We try and keep it simple. We want to be able to run and be really good tacklers. That's what we do.''

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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