Defense continues to work for GWU
While the offense has sputtered over the last few weeks, the Gardner-Webb defense has kept the Runnin' Bulldogs in games.
That, despite being in the midst of a three-game losing streak following a 24-0 home loss to Liberty last Saturday.
And it's against the run where the Runnin' Bulldogs (4-4, 0-2 Big South) are the most successful.
In its first eight games of the season, the Gardner-Webb defense has given up an average of 139 yards on the ground on 4 yards per carry.
"You look at the league and we have some high-powered offenses," said Carroll McCray, GWU head coach. "If you can have a real good defense, you have a chance to be productive."
They haven't been too bad against the pass either — giving up an average of 196 yards per game — but they have surrendered 13 passing touchdowns.
Overall, the defense gives up an average 335 yards per game or 5.3 yards per play.
"You have to be able to stop both the run and the pass," McCray said. "Our defensive line has done a good job against the run but we have to have guys step up because depth is a concern.
"That pass can get to you quick."
Last Saturday, against Liberty, the defense held running back Desmond Rice to just 74 yards on 19 carries. This came after Coastal Carolina gave up 120 yards on the ground to Rice the week before.
All told, the Flames only amassed 111 total yards on the ground against Gardner-Webb.
"They did a good job with their scheme and timing their blitzes," said Liberty head coach Turner Gill. "They were able to get off blocks with their front seven."
A stalwart on defense is junior linebacker Tanner Burch.
Burch leads Gardner-Webb with 74 tackles and his 11 tackles against Liberty on Saturday making him the 40th player in the Big South to reach 200 career tackles.
"He is kind of a spear-head on the defense," McCray said. "He is playing right now with a club because he hurt his right hand.
"We need him to continue to stay healthy because we do rely on him a lot."
The Gardner-Webb secondary has also created havoc on opposing offenses with 10 interceptions, led by Keon Williams' four and Adam Johnson's two — including one late in the game against the Flames.
But, it has been against the run where the Runnin' Bulldog defense has flourished, getting 48 tackles for loss forcing opponents to lose 181 total yards.
For McCray, that starts at the line of scrimmage.
"We are going to count on the line to plug up the gaps and get the linebackers involved," McCray said.
The Runnin' Bulldogs will use this week to attempt to end their three-game skid as they will host winless Warner (Fla.) at Spangler Stadium.