Sports / The Prairie Fire / October 17, 2012

Handing out football’s midterm grades

With the football team heading into its homecoming game and midterms around campus kicking into full gear, it is time to hand out some midseason grades.

Quarterbacks: Junior Drew Diaz started the year at the top of the depth chart, but the title of starter has been held by freshman Luke Oosterbaan for the last few weeks. After struggling in brief appearances early in the year, Oosterbaan has really picked up his play in the last two weeks — throwing for five touchdowns with no interceptions against Beloit and Cornell combined. Grade: B

Runningbacks: Senior Derek Mortensen has been a battering ram out of the backfield, leading the conference in both rushing attempts (167) and rushing yards (810). With seven touchdowns this season, Mortensen leads the team in scoring and should eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season. Sophomore Cort Scheel has also done well in a change of pace role, netting 227 yards of rushing. Grade: A

Wide receivers/tight ends: Knox is not a pass-first offense but that does not mean the skill guys on the outside have not had a big impact. Senior Dustin Armstrong ranks in the top ten in the conference in both catches per game and receiving yards per game, while freshman Ilir Emini has provided the offense with a solid number two option. Junior tight end Neal Moon leads the team with five touchdown receptions and has been a solid safety valve all season. Grade: B+

Offensive line: There have been times this year where the Knox offensive line could be considered the best in the conference. Against Eureka (55 points), Beloit (35 points) and Cornell (38 points),  Knox put up outstanding numbers on offense in large part because these guys dominated the line of scrimmage. Junior Jordan Willits has continued his All-Conference caliber play at tackle while seniors Brian Paul and Mike Carr, junior Jeremy Ransom and sophomore Austin Finley have provided solid play as well. Grade: A-

Defensive Line: On the other side of the trenches the Knox has seen some bright spots but also a lack of consistency. Senior Lloyd Scott has had some solid games this year and so has junior Steve Bora, but Knox has not been able to pressure the quarterback as well as is necessary in a pass-happy conference. Grade: C

Linebackers: Senior Mike Hendrick continues to put up All-American type numbers but even he will admit the linebacking core has not been as strong as many would have thought coming into this season. A 3-4 style defense relies on the linebackers not only to act as pass rushers in many cases but also cover receivers over the middle of the field. Knox has not done either well this season. Grade: C-

Secondary: This has been the number one issue for Knox this season. Knox surrenders over 324 passing yards a game while surrendering a mind-blowing 63 percent of third down conversions. The inability to get off the field on third and long situations has kept the defense on the field for far too long. That has played a key part in the Prairie Fire’s continued struggles in the second half of games. Grade: F

Special teams: Knox has one of the better kick returners in the league in senior Mike Schroeder,  and for most of this season junior kicker Phil Tallman and the rest of the kickoff team have helped Knox win the field position battle. But in recent weeks, the coverage has been showing cracks — including a kickoff return for a touchdown by Cornell last week. Hendrick has served as the punter this season, doing a fair but not superb job. Grade: B-

Jackson White
Jackson White is a senior double majoring in political science and secondary education. This is his third year as a sports editor for TKS. Over the course of the 2010-2011 academic year, Jackson worked for, writing feature stories and columns about high school and college baseball in central Illinois. Outside of the Publications Office, he is an information assistant for the Knox College Sports Information Department and a two-time all-Midwest Conference baseball player. Jackson is the recipient of five awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including two first place awards for sports game coverage and sports page design.

Tags:  austin finley brian paul cort scheel derek mortenesen drew diaz dustin armstrong jeremy ransom jordan willits knox football lloyd scott luke oosterbaan mike carr mike hendrick mike schroeder neal moon phil tallman steve bora

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