HELENA – During the 2016 Frontier Conference football season, Carroll College players and coaches admitted their tackling in the run game needed improvement. Saturday at Nelson Stadium, the Fighting Saints were still searching for answers.
Running backs Ryan Walsh and Major Ali each scored touchdowns, while Ali, the bruising sophomore, consistently carried defenders for extra yardage after contact, something head coach Mike Van Diest noticed, shouting the likes of, “Defense, you’re going to have to get stronger in the weight room before the season.”
Carroll’s defense certainly ran to the ball quickly and made good tackles through the majority of Saturday’s spring game, but two key plays stood out in Van Diest’s mind.
“I thought we played pretty well in the defensive run game, but there were two pretty big runs from Major where someone lost their gaps and we missed a tackle on one long run at the line of scrimmage,” said Van Diest. “The offensive line, what I liked that they did, they got their blocks on the linebackers and stayed on them. We had a missed tackle in the secondary on the second long run of Major’s. Those are the things that hurt us last year, especially against Montana Tech and (Nolan) Saraceni. If a safety makes a play at 10 yards, we get to play again. If they miss a tackle in the secondary, it’s out the gate.”
The Saints’ defense did force a turnover, diving on a loose ball for a fumble. But Van Diest was also hoping for more consistency on third down, an area he says his defense struggled last season. While players and fans likely left Nelson Stadium at least partially satisfied with Carroll’s display, it’s hard for the head coach to be pleased when critiquing each side of the ball.
“This was probably our worst day of defense overall. A couple of the fourth down stops were by our (second and third units). I didn’t think our No. 1s really stepped up to the plate and played dominating like we could,” Van Diest said. “The head coach isn’t going to be happy if the defense doesn’t play well, he isn’t going to be happy if the offense doesn’t do well. Only one side is going to be better when you’re playing against each other. There are enough good things to take from this, the film won’t lie. We have to go back and look at the personnel, and the schemes too. It’s not just the players, we have to make sure the schemes are ok. It’s not so much about who did what or who didn’t, it’s personnel and making a real hard assessment and evaluation of each player.”