By Andrew White | Staff Writer
Youngstown State thrashed the Duquesne defense in the season opener on September 1. The Penguins picked up 610 yards throughout the game, including 394 on the ground, while allowing 45 points.
Since that game, the defense has made a statement. They have only given up an average of 270.2 yards per game which includes four wins over that five game stretch. Take out the other loss they have this season against Kennesaw State and the Dukes defense has only given up 223 yards per game and an average of 24.5 points per game.
The defense has forced 11 turnovers this year including four interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. The seven fumble recoveries puts Duquesne at a tie for 11th in the FCS in that category.
Led by senior All-American Christian Kuntz the defense looks locked in. In the conference opener against crosstown rival Robert Morris, the defense gave up a mere 155 yards of total offense, 65 of which came on a long touchdown pass in the third quarter. They held the Colonials offense to 122 yards on seven completions and just 33 yards on 24 carries.
Although 24 points allowed may not seem like anything special, all of RMU’s points came off turnovers. Duquesne’s special teams unit did not do them any favors as they had two muffed punts inside their own 20 yard line, and let up a touchdown off of a blocked field goal.
Perhaps the most significant stat that came out of Saturday’s game was the defensive third down conversion percentage. In Robert Morris’s nine third down attempts the Duquesne defense allowed zero conversions. Additionally, the defense also stopped RMU on their lone fourth down attempt.
The defense has held opponents to just 24 third down conversions on 74 attempts this season, which is good for a .316 conversion percentage. The success rate gives the Dukes the 15th best defensive third down percentage in the FCS.
When asked what contributes to the third down success, Kuntz replied, “We just try to have good coverage in the secondary and win the line games up front.” The defensive leader continued saying, “We try to pressure the quarterback, which leads to turnovers and fourth downs. If we do that good things will happen.”
Kuntz had a good individual game as well. The linebacker is now one and a half sacks closer to breaking the school record for career sacks. After the game against the Colonials Saturday night, his career total rose to 26, just one and a half shy of Antoine Bullock’s record. He also added five tackles, which included two and a half for a loss.
The senior captain has seven sacks on the year through the first six games, which ranks fifth in the FCS.
Speaking about what may have contributed to the overall success of the season so far Kuntz said, “It’s just the work you put in during the offseason. Everyone puts in the same work and we do it together, so it’s great. Doing all of the little things count and it pays off when you get out on the field.”
Everyone has heard the saying that defense wins championships. If the Duquesne defense can continue their trend of recent success, especially on third down, they could have a good chance of repeating as NEC champions and returning to the FCS playoffs.
The Dukes look to add another conference win next weekend against the first place St. Francis University Red Flash this Friday at 7 p.m. The game will be available for streaming on ESPN3. Duquesne returns home to Rooney Field on Oct. 29 when they take on the Bryant Bulldogs.