September 1, 2010

Bulldogs Seek Repeat Performance In 2010

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Butler, coming off the most successful season in school history, will kickoff the 2010 football season on the road with a trip to Albion, Mich., College on Saturday, Sept. 4.  The season-opener comes nine months after the Bulldogs completed a championship run and recorded Butler's first postseason football victory.

The first sign that 2009 might be something special for Butler’s football program came in the fourth week of the season at Morehead State.  Trailing 21-0 in that game, the Bulldogs rallied for a 28-21 victory in overtime in a stadium where they were previously 0-6.  A week later, Butler defeated Pioneer Football League preseason favorite San Diego with a field goal on the final play of the game!

The Bulldogs, who were picked fifth in the league preseason poll, went on to capture a PFL co-championship and advance to the Gridiron Classic, where they defeated Central Connecticut State for their first postseason victory.  Butler’s final 11-1 record was the best in school history!

This season, fueled by last year’s success, 17 returning starters and a brand new 5,647-seat stadium, the Bulldogs are eager to make a repeat run.  But head coach Jeff Voris, entering his fifth season with the Bulldogs, is cautious in his assessment.

“Our guys understand that if the ball bounces a different way on three or four plays, we’re in the middle of the pack.  It’s that fragile in our league from top to bottom,” said Voris.  “We know how strong the competition is that we’re up against, and we realize that to reach the level we did last year, we’re going to have to work even harder and be even better.  I think our guys understand the importance of a good foundation.”

Voris can call on nine returning starters on offense and eight on defense, plus his top punter and placekicker.  Included among the returning regulars are All-PFL performers Donnie Gilmore (OL), Scott Gray (RB), Zach Watkins (WR), Mike Staniewicz (OL), Nick Caldicott (LB), Grant Hunter (DL), Andrew Huck (QB), Mark Giacomantonio (DB), Michael Wilson (P) and Jordan Koopman (RS).  Gilmore, Gray and Watkins were first team picks.

“We feel good about the players we have returning and our overall experience and depth,” noted Voris.  “But it’s still going to come down to how we prepare for games and how we do things.
 
Offense
    The Bulldogs led the PFL in total offense and finished second in the league in scoring offense in 2009.  And most of the players who helped Butler compile that lofty standing are back this season.

The most interesting competition could be at quarterback, where Voris has two of the top three single season passers in Butler history!  Huck, who threw for 2,454 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, is joined by senior Matt Kobli, who passed for 2,518 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2008.  Kobli sat out a university-imposed suspension last season, before returning this year.  Huck ranked second in the PFL in total offense (243.4) last season; Kobli led the league in total offense (273.7) the previous year.

“Andrew is the starter,” said Voris of his junior signal caller.  “Matt is unique in that he’s a really, really good quarterback, but because of his size and athletic ability, he can help us in a lot of different areas.  Our focus has been on how we can get him on the field at different times and at different spots, while still training him as a quarterback.”

“We definitely feel really good about our quarterback position,” added the Butler coach.

Both quarterbacks will be throwing to a record-setting wide receiver.  Watkins led the PFL with a Butler record 78 catches last season, including 10 touchdown receptions.  He also had the fourth-highest single season total for receiving yards (918) in Butler history.  Also back are veteran receivers Eddie McHale, Jordan Koopman and Jeff Larsen, plus tight ends Carter Walley, Ryan Webb and Bill Bork.  McHale was the team’s third-leading receiver last year with 38 catches for 493 yards, while Koopman had 24 receptions for 258 yards.

The backfield is well-stocked with Gray, who finished third in the PFL in rushing (72.3) in 2009, and junior Ryan Hitchcock both returning.  The two combined for more than 1,200 yards last year, while helping Butler rank second in the league in rushing offense.  Sophomore Steven Depositar, Butler’s fourth-leading rusher last year, also returns, while several newcomers could break into the rotation.

“This is the best depth we’ve had in the backfield since I’ve been here,” said Voris.  “Again, we have to find ways to get them all on the field.”

There’s also depth in the offensive line, which features returning starters Gilmore, Staniewicz, Rob Hobson and Pete Mattingly.  Gilmore has started 34 consecutive games, while Staniewicz has started 33 of the last 34.  Senior Ryan Secrist, who was a starter two years ago before missing last season with injury, is back as are most of last season’s top reserves.       

Defense
    Butler’s opportunistic defense led the PFL in turnover margin (+7/0.58) last season, and the Bulldogs were the fourth-toughest team in the league to score against (19.1).  Voris does have to replace two of his top four tacklers, but the bulk of the defensive unit returns.

The Bulldogs’ defensive strength starts up front with a veteran defensive line led by Hunter.  A second team Academic All-American, Hunter finished second in the PFL and 11th in the NCAA Division I FCS in quarterback sacks, despite missing three games will illness, and he led the team in tackles for loss for the second straight year.  The junior end will be joined by seven defensive linemen who each saw action in at least 10 games last season.  Senior Rob Cosler, junior Jeff Poss and sophomore Jace Tennant each played in all 12 games last season at defensive end, while junior Ross Teare saw action at defensive tackle in all 12 contests.  Senior Tyler Skaggs started seven of 10 games at defensive tackle, while junior Larry Thomas and sophomore Taylor Clarkson each played in 11 games.  Poss finished seventh on the team in tackles, while Hunter was eighth.

“When you can line up a defensive line with guys who have played together, anchored by Grant Hunter, you’ve got a chance,” noted Voris.

The Bulldogs are equally experienced at linebacker, despite losing second-leading tackler Derek Guggenberger, and in the secondary, despite the absence of third-leading tackler Spencer Summerville.

Caldicott, Butler’s leading tackler last season, anchors a linebacker corps that includes returning regular Andrew Cottrell and top 2009 reserves Jordan Ridley and William Lamar.  Caldicott finished with 70 tackles last season, one more than Guggenberger and two more than Summerville.  He also led the team with three forced fumbles and tied for second on the squad with three pass interceptions.  Cottrell, playing his first season with the Bulldogs finished fifth on the team in tackles (43), while Ridley was tenth (36).  Ridley and Lamar both saw action in all 12 Butler games last season.  Additional help could come from seniors Bob Olszewski and junior Robert Koteff, both of whom saw regular action last season, and sophomore Artis Hailey, who’s switching from running back to linebacker.

The defensive secondary is led by senior Tadd Dombart and junior Mark Giacomantonio.  Dombart, a four-year regular, enters his final season with seven career pass interceptions and more than 100 career tackles.  Giacomantonio, Butler’s fourth-leading tackler last season, led the PFL in pass interceptions in 2009 with five in nine games.  Junior Jack McKenna, named Butler’s Most Improved Defensive Player last season, returns at cornerback, where he started all 12 games in 2009 and tied Dombart with three pass thefts.  He also finished sixth on the team in tackles.  Sophomore Matt Foor and junior Logan Sullivan, both of whom saw extensive action last season, are the top candidates to replace Summerville at strong safety, while junior Andy Dauch adds experienced depth at free safety.  Several newcomers could contribute at cornerback.

“We have experienced guys returning at all positions (in the secondary), and we have some really good young depth,” stated Voris.  “We enter the season feeling very good about our secondary.”         

Special Teams
    Unlike a year ago, the Bulldogs return all of their top special teams players.  Sophomore Michael Wilson took over the team’s punting chores last season and wound up being named Butler’s Special Teams MVP.  He led the PFL in number of punts inside the 20-yard line (29), helping the Bulldogs win the battle of field position.  Junior David Lang took over as the team’s placekicker, and he finished as the Butler’s third-leading scorer with 54 points.  He booted seven field goals, including a pair of game-winners, and wound up third in the PFL in kick scoring.  Koopman returns as the squad’s top kick returner, averaging 22.7 yards per return last season, while Dombart led the Bulldogs in punt returns.