They aren’t perfect, haven’t sealed anything and have a long way to go to reach their objective. But at the season’s midpoint, Franklin College football coach Mike Leonard has few complaints about the Grizzlies.
Correction: Leonard has no complaints.
Efficient in all areas and dominant in some, the Grizzlies scarcely resemble the turnover-prone team that started 0-2.
Rather, they’re looking more like the previous five Franklin teams that won Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships and advanced to the national playoffs.
“We’re really excited about how all phases of the game are playing,” said Leonard, whose team rides a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s game at HCAC rival Earlham. “We’re clicking in all phases.”
One of only two unbeaten teams in league play, the Grizzlies (3-2, 3-0 HCAC) are among NCAA Division III’s leaders in range of categories, especially on offense.
For example, sophomore quarterback Chase Burton is second nationally in passing yards with 1,604. He is eighth in completions per game (28), 10th in touchdown passes (14), 13th in passing yards per game (333.6), 14th in total offense per game (333.8) and 22nd in completion percentage (.667).
But as terrific as the Grizzlies have been on offense this season, they’ve been equally effective on defense.
They have shut out two of their past three opponents and feature one of the nation’s top tacklers in senior linebacker Jeremiah Windell, who averages 7.3 solo tackles per game.
On the special teams front, junior punter Cody Beeks is among the Division III leaders with a 38.4-yard average per punt. And sophomore kicker Stephen Colligan has connected on 22 of 24 extra-point attempts and 2 of 3 field-goal tries.
Moreover, the Grizzlies have been effective on punt and kickoff coverage and have dramatically cut back on the turnovers that plagued them in nonconference losses against Illinois Wesleyan and Butler.
“Defensively, we’ve done a great job of stopping the run,” Leonard said. “Special teams-wise, we’re winning the field position battle. Offensively, we’re throwing the ball well and running the ball well.
“We’re trying to work on the things we can control.”
With regard to the conference race, the Grizzlies control their own destiny. At the least, a win today at Earlham (0-5, 0-3 HCAC) would keep them on pace with Rose-Hulman (4-0, 2-0 HCAC), the only other unbeaten in league play. At best, it would create breathing room should Rose-Hulman stumble today at Bluffton.
“We’re just trying to (win) one at a time and set ourselves up for the next one,” Leonard. “Everybody’s pretty well-dialed with their roles right now.”
What: Franklin College (4-3, 3-0 HCAC) at Earlham College (0-5, 0-3 HCAC)
When: 2:30 p.m. today
Last year’s meeting: Franklin won 49-20
Team;Overall record;HCAC record
Mount St. Joseph;2-2;2-1