November 16, 2018
By: Sean Fritz
The Muhlenberg Mules earned themselves a playoff spot with an impressive 9-1 overall record this season, 8-1 within the Centennial Conference. Led by first year head coach Nate Milne, the Mules are rolling coming off a deflating loss at the end of October to Johns Hopkins University. Ever since, the Mules have outscored opponents 102-7 in a pair of blowout wins over Gettysburg College and arch-rival Moravian College last week in Bethlehem. Aside from the loss to JHU and a close win early in the season at Susquehanna that took overtime to decide a winner, the Mules have had their way with just about every other opponent on the schedule. This 2018 Muhlenberg team is as complete a team I've seen and they've impressed me in more ways than one week in and week out.
Beginning on the offensive side of the ball, the two words I use to describe this unit are 'executed explosiveness'. Now that may not make the most sense in the world but the way I describe how this group operates on its drives hopefully does. The Mules offense has averaged 38 points-per-game and more than 4,000 yards of total offense this season. They average 31 minutes in time of possession each game, meaning they're holding onto the ball more than half the game. This group which is built around sophomore quarterback Mike Hnatkowsky, establishes itself with a balanced run-pass mix, but more importantly with a feeling of confidence that they're going to march on your defense. They line up and use that offensive line and their backs to get out in space and pick up some nice chunk plays on the ground, which will set up their play action game. Once the play action game is established, this unit will move and execute its way down the field in a hurry and they'll do it often. The execution of this offense becomes almost explosive when they're able to get into a rhythm that stretches over a number of drives and before their opponent knows it, they're up multiple scores. Of course they have the ability to make big plays and a hit a deep ball, but in my opinion, they're at their absolute best when they control the time of possession and simply march at will on opposing defenses picking up nice chunks of yardage in the process.
Flipping it over to the defensive side of the ball, this defense has a mentality that most winning defenses like to play with, and that's craving the opportunity to get after it especially on 3rd downs. With an offense like the Mules have, playing with big leads became a familiar spot for the Muhlenberg defense to be in. In most senses, those big leads alone will tend to make offenses a bit more one-dimensional which is exactly what this defense wants. They're led by an aggressive defensive coordinator in Cory David who wants nothing more than to see his front-7 get after the quarterback. They were able to not just get after the quarterback but finish him off when they got there, proven by the unit's 35 sacks this season, most of which coming from defensive lineman Frankie Feaster who had a team-high 13.5 sacks this season. That was something I, along with anyone else who had the chance to see this defense in action, became accustomed to seeing especially in 2nd halves this season. If the Mules offense can get them out to a lead, it usually is not going to end well for the opponents offense when lining up against a Muhlenberg defense who often seems to get stronger as the games go on.
As for Saturday, the Mules will have to travel to Bucks County for a matchup with a team they aren't too familiar with in Delaware Valley University. The pair have only met six times in the series history and Del Val has dominated, with the Mules entering Saturday's game with a record of just 1-5 all-time against the Aggies. The last meeting between the two was back in 2016, a game won by Del Val by a score of 30-27. As for the meeting Saturday, it'll boast a matchup of two pretty similar teams. Del Val also holds a record of 9-1 while their offense averages 36 PPG and has gained more than 3,800 yards of total offense on the season. Their defense is also pretty solid allowing 13 PPG and just 15 touchdowns all season. The key for the Mules on Saturday will be simple. In a game with teams who aren't familiar with one another, Muhlenberg will have to play its own game and focus on themselves. They've spent the week preparing for everything that Del Val will throw at them but when it comes time to take the field Saturday in Doylestown, the Mules have to make sure they stick to what they know, because its what's got them to this point and quite frankly, has worked pretty darn well for them too.