Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2012, 6:31 pm

SAU defense looks to pressure Southern Oregon passing attack

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By Tom Johnston, tjohnston@qconline.com

The St. Ambrose University family will do its utmost to be hospitable to the Southern Oregon University football team this weekend when the Raiders visit Davenport for a first-round NAIA playoff game.

However, once that Football Championship Series contest commences at Brady Street Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday, the mindset will change. The hospitality from the 9-1, eighth-ranked Fighting Bees will turn a bit hostile.

"If we're physical and beat them up, smack them in the nose right away, I think we can control the game," said Jake Hemmen, former Alleman product and starting defensive end. "I don't think, out there, they have really seen a defense like ours."

The nationally 10th-ranked Raiders (8-2) bring their record-breaking offense to the Quad-Cities and will give the Fighting Bees a look they haven't seen in a while. SOU, which has a streak of eight straight games with at least 45 points, leads the NAIA and has established program records in passing offense (4,634), total offense (6,570), sacks allowed (two) and scoring (544).

Sophomore quarterback Austin Dodge has set SOU records and leads the nation in passing yards (4,326), total offense (4,419), touchdown passes (36), completions (292) and attempts (447). Senior receiver Patrick Donahue leads the NAIA in all-purpose yards (1,944) and has set anSOU record with 86 receptions. His 1,305 receiving yards rank behind only senior Cole McKenzie in SOU annals, as McKenzie has 1,357 yards with a school-record 15 scoring grabs out of 75 total catches.

"What they do more than what we've seen a lot is they take their shots downfield quite a bit," said Jeff Girsch, SAU defensive coordinator. "They're going to take 13-14 a game just throwing that ball (deep). We've been emphasizing all week to stay over the top and make them drive the football on us instead of scoring on big plays and getting big yards at a time."

Making this game tougher for the Bees is that they haven't seen a team that throws the ball this much in a while. SAU's focus has been on running teams William Penn and St. Francis, Ill. Wins over those two in the last two games helped the Bees play their way into a share of the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League title.

"We've been refreshing our kids on what we've been running in the pass game against Grand View and St. Francis, Ind.," said Girsch.

Girsch said there would be no major changes in his squad's defensive approach geared specifically to stop the Raiders' video-game-like attack.

What the Bees think they do have in their advantage is their 4-3 defense.

"Teams they have been playing are rushing three and dropping eight guys into coverage, and they've really taken advantage of that," said Girsch.

The Bees, though, hope that an aggressive attack at the line of scrimmage plays into their favor.

"As a D-lineman, that's what we love doing — bringing four people as hard as we can and get after the quarterback," said Hemmen. "We really have to get after it on the defensive line and keep our pass lanes and make sure we get good pressure on them so our DBs have a little easier time handling their receivers."