After completing a perfect regular season, Carnegie Mellon now shifts its focus towards the first round of the Division III NCAA Tournament and the DePauw Tigers (Ind.).
In his first year with the program, head coach Ryan Larsen was named the Presidents’ Athletic Conference Coach of the Year after guiding the Tartans to an 8-0 mark in conference play.
Like any undefeated team, Larsen touched on the difficulty of pulling off a perfect regular season.
“One little lapse, one bad week, one bad day can ruin it all,” Larsen said. “I don’t know if you could write a much better story with what it’s been and how we’ve persevered through injuries, how guys have stepped up in big moments and finding ways to get the job done every week.”
A major part of the success this season for Carnegie Mellon has been the togetherness of the team. Even this deep into the season, the energy is still high in every practice as they prepare for the postseason.
With snow on the ground this week, the Carnegie Mellon team took to the field to dial in for the weekend but also had a bit of fun with it.
“There was a lot of snow on the ground, so we had a slow practice, but we were playing Christmas music for fun,” Larsen said. “I want practice to be the best two hours of the day for these guys and even yesterday you had guys throwing snowballs at each other and they’re out there practicing and getting their work done.”
As preparation got underway, the Tartans’ attention now turns towards a 9-1 DePauw team out of the North Coast Athletic Conference. The Tigers boast a strong run game, averaging 219.5 yards per game. Junior running back Gus Baumgartner paves the way for the running back room with 776 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Larsen acknowledges that the run game will pose a threat against Carnegie Mellon and the Tartans will need to be locked in in order to stop it.
“They have a really developed and complex run game. We have to have great eye discipline on defense and be very gap sound to stop the run,” he emphasized.
While Carnegie Mellon will be dialed in against the run game, the Tartans will also need to be prepared for the passing game as well.
“They will try to take advantage of you and take some shots on you, so our defensive backs stay awake and don’t get caught ball-watching,” Larsen said.
DePauw will be a tough task for Carnegie Mellon as a second-round bid is on the table, but the Tartans have put together one of the most impressive teams in Division III this season.
Carnegie Mellon’s 2022 team has revolved around the play of the defense. The Tartans posted the best scoring defense in the PAC. Limiting teams to 10.9 points per game also places the Tartans 14th in the national ranks. With that, the run defense has also posted impressive numbers, holding teams to 74.1 yards per game.
On top of that, the defense has done an exceptional job of forcing turnovers. The Tartans have 20 interceptions on the season and nine fumble recoveries. Out of those, four have been returned for scores.
“I think what’s really impressive about the defense is their ability to allow the lowest number of points in the league, but [also] the explosive splash plays they are making,” Larsen said.
With the defense putting up exceptional numbers, they are led by numerous talented players. Linebackers Thomas and Robert Coury both received All-PAC honors with Robert being named to the first team after finishing the regular season with a team-high 83 tackles and 17 tackles for loss. Thomas was not far behind his brother with 71 tackles for the second-most on the team as well as recovering two fumbles to earn second team honors.
Senior defensive lineman Ben Coyne and junior defensive back Adrian Williams were also named to the All-PAC first team. Coyne notched 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, while Williams recorded five interceptions and 14 passes defended.
While several individuals received conference honors, Larsen continued to preach the defense’s overall togetherness.
“When you play championship-level defense the way we have, it is a unit effort,” he said.
Offensively, Carnegie Mellon is led by junior Ben Mills who has thrown for 1,798 yards and 12 touchdowns. Throughout the season, Mills has formed a strong connection with wide receiver Kris Hughes as he has caught six touchdowns on 639 receiving yards.
Complementing the passing game has been a solid ground attack as the Tartans average nearly 100 yards per game. Junior running back Tre Vasiliadis leads the pack with 430 rushing yards along with three touchdowns.
Carnegie Mellon and DePauw are set for a Noon kickoff at Gesling Stadium on Saturday.