Western Mustangs’ big question is it’s undersized, inexperienced defensive line

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There are times when football teams aren’t quite sure where to attack the Western Mustangs.

This year, though, it looks like teams will hope to find success going after an inexperienced and undersized Mustang defensive line.

This isn’t to say teams will be successful or that the Mustang defensive line lacks talent. Given another year the Mustangs could have great depth there but in this 2017 Ontario university football season that defensive line is going to be tested repeatedly, especially by teams that like to pound the football and have a big offensive line.

“We’re feeding them as much as we can,” laughed Mustangs head coach Greg Marshall. “We’re going through a lot of ice cream and chocolate milk.”

Marshall knows his defensive line is undersized. The Mustangs build much the same each year. They historically have quick, explosive players on the edge, players like John Biewald, Ricky Osei-Kusi, Dylan Ainsworth. On the inside they rely on big, strong men to plus up the run game. Last year it was massive Rupert Butcher. But he’s gone. There were players like Rory Connop, Andrew Pedda, Daryl Waud; all off them in the 6-foot-5, 275 pounds and up.

This year Marshall and defensive co-ordinator Paul Gleason was relying on players like Jimmy Hawley, 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, and Jake Karroum 6-foot-2, 288 pounds. But both were hurt for the Mustangs’ opening 66-3 win over York.

Even when they do return, the pair is going to have to take some plays off, but the other defensive linemen are either smaller or inexperienced. In a game when stopping a third and goal is paramount, will the Mustangs have the beef to make the play?

“In short-yardage situations, there’s potential to bring in a couple of our offensive linemen,” Marshall said. “But if we were to play a team like us that has a fullback and they want to pound the ball at you, it’s a bit of an issue. That is a bit of a concern.”

Karroum and Hawley will help. Against York all the defensive linemen saw plenty of playing time as the coaching staff rotated seven linemen: Andrew Thurston 6-foot-1, 232 pounds; Mark Shelley, 6-foot-3 212; Austin Fordham-Miller, 6-foot-2, 261; Nick Theriault, 6-foot, 228; Mitchell Stadynk, 6-foot-2, 250; Temi Owaje, 6-foot-2, 279.

The Mustangs are high on Miller and Owaje, but they are freshmen and inexperienced. Thurston is a converted linebacker.

“The defensive coaches did a good job by playing everybody,” Marshall said. “It’s important to keep them fresh. When you get tired, you start to play high and if you’re undersized, you get driven and your linebackers get cut off. You have to keep the players fresh.”

The Mustangs didn’t give up much to York on the ground. They limited the Lions to a net 38 yards on 22 carries. But the challenge is going to be a lot greater when you line up against an offensive line like Laurier Golden Hawks, who average almost 300 pounds and the Guelph Gryphons who tip the scale at almost 310 a player.

The Mustangs get the Gryphons Labour Day at 7 p.m. in London. The Gryphons got good news with the return of running back Johnny Augustine, a stocky 5-foot-10, 200-pounder who runs hard.

“Guelph has a new offensive co-ordinator this year,” Marshall says. “They like to run the ball, but they have three or four good receivers. You can’t just bear down on the run because they have three or four receivers who can run and catch the ball.”

The Gryphons lost to the Ottawa Gee-Gees in overtime in their opener.

“It’s a good early test for us,” Marshall said. “We didn’t play York last year, so I didn’t know much about them, but we know Guelph very well. We recruited the same players. Guelph’s a good match up for us and we match up pretty well. It’s going to be a good test.”

It will be a test with plenty of questions asked of the defensive line.

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