The football team continued its winning streak last Saturday after beating the McKendree University Bearcats 45-17, marking their third win of the season. This is the first time the football team has pulled off a perfect home schedule since 1994.
The Bulldogs brought their overall record to 8-1 and their conference record to 5-1 with the win on Senior Day, which puts them at No. 2 in the conference.
Truman State University beat McKendree six of the last eight times the two teams competed against each other — most recently edging out the Bearcats 17-14 in 2017.
Head coach Gregg Nesbitt said that while the team has been excellent all year, the matchup against McKendree was one of the best performances for all three phases he has seen in his 10 years as head coach.
“We really played well,” Nesbitt said. “Offensively, really executing at a high level consistently. Defensively, we were rock solid last Saturday, particularly against the run.”
Nesbitt said quarterback Jaden Barr has had a great career overall, but has been performing at the top of his game for the last month. He said Barr has been making smart quarterback decisions by getting the guys into the right place, making the team more successful.
Running back Jordan Salima scored three touchdowns against McKendree last Saturday. He said the Bulldog offense was able to control the ball and the team’s play execution was where it needed to be.
Nesbitt said the Bulldogs’ kicking game has consistently been the best part of the team all season. Statistically, McKendree has been more successful in that area, Nesbitt said, but Truman rose to the challenge.
“It’s been an excellent season,” Nesbitt said. “It’s a really good group of seniors. Coming off of Senior Day last week, I’ve been putting together some numbers and last week was their 27th win in the last four years, which puts them in the top 12 of a school with a rich, storied football tradition and over 110 seasons of football. So, they’re getting into rare company.”
Nesbitt pointed to the team’s success off the field as well, noting that the Bulldogs have had few problems off the field. This group of seniors has won four consecutive Great Lakes Valley Conference sportsmanship trophies and led the league in Academic All-Conference athletes.
Nesbitt said the graduating group’s leave hopefully won’t have a negative impact on the team next season because of the variety of experience on the field. He explained the challenge of keeping the consistency and success from one season to the next is what makes coaching fun.
“This is an eclectic group,” Nesbitt said. “We got a fantastic group of veterans … we got 10 true freshmen that are also playing — that’s unusual. You got another 20 plus that were redshirting, but it’s a unique mix of veteran and truly green rookies.”
The starting lineup has a number of freshmen, Nesbitt explained, so he thinks the University has recruited well this year. He said he hopes the younger players will continue to develop throughout their time at Truman.
Salima also said this team is a good mix of old and new ’Dogs, but the players hold each other accountable for putting in the work. He said the team’s chemistry has been crucial throughout the season for making the team successful.
Nesbitt said he credits a lot of the ’Dogs’ continuing success to their triumphant start to the season. He points to Truman’s win over Drake University on the road to open the season and then return home to beat Wayne State University for putting the team in the right headspace.
“Your early season success really propels you to thinking you’re good, which is half the battle,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt said the culture on the team keeps the players motivated and working hard.
Salima said the work put in during the off season was a major factor in the team’s success this year. The leadership, provided through the coaching staff and the veteran team members, has also been important for defining and executing the season they want, he said.
Nesbitt said the team is confident this season, which is having an effect on gameplay. He said confidence breeds aggression, so the team is playing quick, aggressive ball games.
“Throughout the season we’ve been improving every week and taking the steps needed,” Salima said. “That’s attributed to our preparation throughout the week and I think we’re maturing as a unit and you can see that in our field of play.”
The team will continue ironing out any growing pains as it changed lineups to accomodate for injuries just a few weeks ago.
Nesbitt said the coaching staff is hitting its stride, pushing the team to constantly improve. Salima said the coaches are providing good guidance and playing to the athletes’ strengths.
The Bulldogs compete next against the University of Indianapolis, which is a nationally ranked team with only five conference losses in seven years. However, UIndy lost to Lindenwood University, Truman’s only loss this season, last week.
“We’re catching an angry competitor on the road in their last home game,” Nesbitt said. “So we certainly have our work cut out for us.”
Although it’s currently a ways away, if Truman wins the next two games it could advance to the National Collegiate Athletics Association for the first time in 25 years.
“We’re controlling our own fate right now,” Salima said. “We got a good opponent this week at UIndy, but if we beat them … then our postseason really begins.”