By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – Through five games this season, the St. Norbert College defense is proving it’s no slouch.
With the Green Knights’ offense struggling at times, the defense has stepped up — allowing only 51 total points, or 10.2 points per game. That is ranked 12th nationally.
Included in St. Norbert’s hot defensive start was a 7-0 blanking of Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) foe Wisconsin Lutheran College on Oct. 8.
The Green Knights (4-1 overall, 3-0 NACC) haven’t allowed more than 14 points in a single game this season — a year after they surrendered 34 or more points three times in 2021.
“It’s different from year to year, but we’re playing the same teams in the NACC,” first-year St. Norbert defensive coordinator Charles Drewek said. “Going into our second season in the new conference, lots of guys are taking the experiences from last year — it’s helped us be successful.”
The Green Knights are giving up 312 total yards of offense per game — 127 rushing and 185 passing.
“It speaks to the testament of the guys — they’ve put in the work,” Drewek said. “We have a veteran group of guys who are leading from the front. We also have some talented underclassmen. I think we could be more physical in the run game. The number one stat is getting the victory and keeping our scoring defense low.”
Drewek has simplified the defensive scheme.
“We teach concept-based schemes,” he said. “From week to week, we can change things to make it look multiple so the opposition can’t pick up on what we’re doing.”
St. Norbert’s defense is getting off the field about 32% of the time on third down — something Drewek would like his guys to improve upon.
“I’d like to see that at least in the mid-20s,” he said. “St. Norbert has had a track record of playing good defense — that got me excited to come here. Right now, we’re probably ranked between 50 and 60 (in Division III) in third-down conversion. We started the season slow there. Against (Wisconsin Lutheran) we allowed 3 of 14 (21%), so I feel we’re improving. That’s a key down in football.”
Alex Campbell leads the defense with four interceptions, while Joe Jung has corralled three.
“We forced four turnovers (against Wisconsin Lutheran),” Drewek said. “We’ve had two fumble recoveries (this season), so we need to be better there. We teach pursuit to the football. Even (against Wisconsin Lutheran), we recovered a fumble in the end zone and should have scored a touchdown. But we had a penalty wipe out the score — that would have been our first defensive score of the season.”
Seventh-year head coach Dan McCarty said bringing Drewek on board before the season has made a big difference.
“It’s meant a ton,” McCarty said. “From day one, Charlie has fit in with our program, staff and kids. He’s built great relationships with the players, and they know how much he cares about them. He gets on our guys, but they know it’s coming from a place of love because he’s built that relationship. It’s been a great fit.”
McCarty knows his squad can help the defense overall by playing a complete game.
“It’s cliché, but I don’t think we’ve played a complete game in all three phases the whole season,” he said. “Even after our victory over Wisconsin Lutheran, it felt like a loss on the bus ride home. It’s exciting to think we can play better.”
Jung, who was named the NACC Defensive Player of the Week, has been impressed with Drewek. He feels the team is buying into his coach’s philosophy.
“He’s been great,” Jung said of Drewek. “For us to pick up the new system as quickly as we have, it’s a testament to him. Defense is always more complicated than it looks from a fan’s standpoint. You’re doing a different thing every play, depending on what the guy across from you is doing.”
The Green Knights’ defense will get another NACC test this Saturday when SNC hosts Concordia University Wisconsin (5-1, 3-1) at 1 p.m. at Schneider Stadium for homecoming.
The Falcons are averaging 30 points and 357 yards of total offense per game.
“It’s a big game coming in,” Drewek said. “They’re 5-1 for a reason — it’s going to be a heavyweight battle.”
Drewek has been impressed with Concordia.
“They have a veteran quarterback, a good receiver and a good stable of running backs,” he said.
Falcons quarterback James Linn has thrown for more than 1,200 yards with 13 touchdown passes. The senior also leads the team with 222 yards rushing.
Linn’s favorite target has been Tim Houlihan, who has 30 receptions for 403 yards with three touchdowns.
By Rich Palzewic