OGDEN — There are many truisms in football, from the classic Bear Bryant quote, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships” to the immortal words of the newly appointed Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.”
Most platitudes induce their share of eye rolls, but one in particular has proven accurate time and again: The game is won or lost in the trenches.
More often than not, it is the work of the big guys up front, the offensive and defensive linemen, that decides which team will walk away from a contest victorious.
The Weber State Wildcats (11-2) are well acquainted with that fact, especially when it comes to their defensive line.
As evidenced by their most recent victory, the 30-13 blowout of rival Southern Utah, the Wildcat defensive line is a force to be reckoned with.
Weber State held the high-powered T-Bird attack to only 90 rushing yards on just 2.7 yards per carry last Saturday and perhaps more impressively, recorded six sacks, which, when coupled with additional tackles for loss, accounted for 56 yards lost by SUU.
Senior defensive end Cardon Malan led the way, racking up a season-high three sacks, while fellow linemen Adam Rodriguez and McKay Murphy each added an additional takedown of SUU quarterback Patrick Tyler (linebacker Justus Brown was credited with the final Wildcat sack).
“Cardon has done pretty good all season pressuring the quarterback but last game he stepped up when we needed him,” said Murphy. “(Cardon) was a huge difference maker in that game.”
“(My success) was all from game planning,” Malan added. “We knew going into the game that Tyler was going to read me a lot, so coach (Jay) Hill made it so I would just have the quarterback for my assignment. I just stepped up and was in the right position to make a play.”
Malan has made a habit of being in the right position all season long.
The former Syracuse Titan, not to mention Dixie State Trailblazer and Snow College Badger, has had quite the senior campaign, racking up 35 tackles (eighth best on the team), 7.5 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and five quarterback hurries.
Thanks in part to his efforts, the Wildcats have proven stout against the run, holding opponents to just 115 yards per game on 3.7 yards per carry. Moreover, Weber State hasn’t allowed more than one rushing touchdown in a game all season.
A more telling pair of statistics, however, may be team sacks and tackles for loss. The Wildcats are among the best in the country in both categories, coming in as the 21st best in total sacks and 13th in tackles for loss.
The Wildcats have sacked the opposing quarterback 37 times this year, for a loss of 256 yards. The yards lost are particularly noteworthy, as the Weber State defense ranks as sixth-best in the country in total yards lost on sacks.
Led by Murphy, who has recorded a team-best 14 tackles for loss, the Wildcats defense has also amassed 94 tackles for loss in 2017, including 64 solo tackles and 59 assisted.
Murphy, a senior defensive tackle out of Lone Peak High, has been excellent all year long for Weber State, tallying 37 tackles, four sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Add in the contributions of Rodriguez, who has a defensive line-best 50 tackles, with 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and it is easy to see why the Wildcat defensive line is among the best in the country.Comment on this story
“We just let it rip,” said Murphy. “Earlier (in the year), while you’re still adjusting to playing with other people, you are kind of worried about keeping your starting spot or whatever. I think there has been a lot of growth (along the defensive line). A lot of people have grown confident and comfortable with their assignments and we have just started to let it rip and not worry about the little things like that.”
“Really, we are just a family,” added Malan. “Everyone on the D-line loves each other. We all work hard and play for each other. Coach Kite Afeaki does a good job. We just play for each other, we have our assignment and we do our thing.”