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2015 Butler Bulldogs Football Preview: The Offense

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – My third and final preview of the 2015 Butler Bulldogs Football Team concludes with the offense, a squad full of young stars and multiple weapons at each position, even quarterback. Once again, “experience” is the word for the Bulldogs in 2015. After injuries put a halt on what could’ve been a special offensive season in 2014, the Bulldogs will look to improve on a 9th place Total Offense ranking in the Pioneer Football League during the 2015 season with a healthy returning squad.

“The nice thing that we have right now is the experience across the board in a lot of different positions, which allows us to be extremely multiple in personnel groupings,” said Head Football Coach Jeff Voris. “Because they’ve been in the system and because they are football smart, the shifts and the motions; getting in and out of plays, you can do all of those things and it really allows us to run all of Coach Conner’s offense because of the experience we have and the depth.”

THE QUARTERBACKS

The 2015 Bulldogs should benefit from some of the misfortune encountered by the 2014 squad. Most teams hope to have one returning quarterback with experience; Butler has the luxury of two.

Redshirt senior QB Matt Shiltz ended his 2014 season in the sixth contest due to a hand injury. He was off to a strong start with a 62% completion rate and 10 touchdowns against only four interceptions. Shiltz’s injury paved the way for increased time under center for current redshirt junior QB Malcolm Weaver. Weaver responded with 1,010 passing yards and five touchdowns of his own over the second half of the season.

The two signal-callers bring valuable experience in Coach Jeff Voris’s system and that has translated to solid competition in camp.

“I think every really good team has a quarterback that can distribute the ball and lead a team and those guys (Shiltz and Weaver) have both had to do it,” Said Jeff Voris. “They’ve gotten better. Both of they had a great offseason. The competition is good. It’s good having them in the meeting room with the young guys. They are just added coaches on the field because of their experience and knowledge of the system.”

Shiltz, voted a 2015 team captain by his peers, is in his fifth year out of St. Charles, Ill. Known for his accuracy and command of the offense, Shiltz had a career-high 347 yards on 25-for-31 passing against Taylor in the Bulldogs’ third game of the year in only 3 quarters of action. He also had a career-long 74-yard run and a career-long 75-yard pass against Taylor and was named PFL Co-Offensive Player of the Week following the Taylor win. Shiltz followed that with 296 yards against Jacksonville in the Pioneer Football League opener. Through the first five games of the season prior to his injury, Shiltz was averaging 259 yards per game through the air. Shiltz was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll.

Photo: Butler Athletics/Matt Shiltz (Brent Smith)
Photo: Butler Athletics/Matt Shiltz (Brent Smith)

Shiltz connected on 106-of-171 attempts (62%) for 1325 yards with 4 interceptions and 10 passing touchdowns. Shiltz finished with a 141.6% QB efficiency rating and averaged 220.7 passing yards per game with a long of 75. Shiltz finished 3rd on the team in rushing with 216 yards on 48 attempts in just 6 games. Shiltz averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 36 average yards rushing per game with a total of 3 touchdowns and a long of 74.

Weaver, a redshirt junior, provides more of a offensive threat for the Bulldogs, not only as a QB, but as a threat with his legs and hands. He led the offense to a 62-point outburst against PFL foe Morehead State a season ago, highlighted by a season high 69-yard touchdown run. Against San Diego, Weaver almost pulled the Bulldogs back from a 21-0 third quarter deficit, throwing for a career high 208 yards and two touchdowns in the contest. Weaver rushed for a career-high 84 yards (6 att.) and two touchdowns against Morehead State, caught three passes for 12 yards at Youngstown State and was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll in 2014.

Weaver connected on 99-of-208 attempts (46%) with 1010 yards, 6 interceptions and 5 passing touchdowns. Weaver finished with a 90.5% QB efficiency rating and averaged 91.8 passing yards per game with a long of 62. Weaver rushed for 198 yards on 62 attempts for an average of 3.2 yards per carry and an average of 18 yards per game and 3 touchdowns. Weaver finished with 8 total receptions for 28 yards, averaging 3.5 yards per catch and 2.5 average yards per game. His longest reception was 10 yards.

The Butler staff is high on the program’s young arms as well. Redshirt freshman Will Marty is the third returning signal-caller, joining veterans Shiltz and Weaver. The Bulldogs’ freshman class includes three true freshmen, Alex Lozon, Cameron Towns and Ryan Young.

The Bulldogs will rely on veteran leadership from Matt Shiltz and the versatility of Malcolm Weaver to improve on a 5th place Pass Offense ranking that connected on 205-of-382 attempts (53.7%) for 2334 total yards, 10 interceptions and 15 passing touchdowns. The Bulldogs averaged 6.1 passing yards per attempt and 212.2 average yards per game. The 10 interceptions thrown were the least by any team in the PFL.

THE WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

In the no-huddle, up-tempo attack orchestrated by head coach Jeff Voris and offensive coordinator Kyle Conner, three- and four-wide receiver sets are the norm. Luckily for returning quarterbacks Matt Shiltz and Malcolm Weaver, they will have a number of weapons on the outside at their disposal.

The versatile and back-to-back Honorable Mention All-PFL senior WR Marquese Martin-Hayes returns after hauling in 49 catches a season ago. He accounted for 604 yards and two touchdowns with a long of 53 yards, an average of 12.4 yards per catch and 60.4 average yards per game. Martin-Hayes finished second on the team and seventh in the PFL in receptions and second on the squad and eighth in the PFL with 609 receiving yards. Martin-Hayes recorded a career-best 10 catches for a career-high 159 yards and one touchdown against Taylor, finished with seven receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville, had a career-long 53-yard reception for a touchdown against Taylor, posted a career-long 58-yard kickoff return at Stetson and recorded a career-long, 14-yard rush against Jacksonville. Martin-Hayes had 27 rushing yards on 10 attempts for an average of 2.7 yards per attempt and game.

Photo: Butler Athletics/Marquese Martin-Hayes (Brent Smith)
Photo: Butler Athletics/Marquese Martin-Hayes (Brent Smith)

Redshirt juniors Brandon Collins and Danny Cotter also provide experience. Collins posted 31 receptions for 411 yards and two scores a season ago with a long of 75 yards, 13.3 average yards per catch and 37.4 average yards per game. Collins had a career-best six receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown at Drake, caught five passes for 100 yards and a touchdown against Taylor, scored on a career-long 75-yard reception against Taylor and was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll. Danny Cotter finished with 61 yards on 8 receptions with an average of 7.6 yards per catch, 5.5 yards per game and one touchdown. Cotter grabbed a 10-yard pass from quarterback Matt Shiltz for a touchdown at Youngstown State, had a career-high three catches for 29 yards at Youngstown State, recorded one tackle and was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll.

Redshirt senior and captain Brian Akialis will see significant snaps at receiver in 2015. The All-Pioneer Football League punter will be called upon to limit his special teams action by helping to convert third downs and move the chains. Redshirt junior WR Guy DiBalsamo transitions from running back to wide receiver. His 311 yards on the ground a season ago were second on the team, but he also posted eight catches for 61 yards for an average of 7.6 yards per catch, 5.5 average yards per game, and one receiving touchdown.

“It’s a lot that goes into it (the offensive style),” said Wide receivers coach Desmond Tardy. “The older guys, they definitely have it down and it’s a lot easier for them to just react, which is what football is a lot of, as opposed to think so much. That’s why it takes a little time for guys to really grasp the offense we have here.”

Redshirt sophomore Nick Weaver leads the group of younger players who will crack the line-up in 2015 after playing in 5 games last season and recording one catch for 20 yards against Jacksonville. Redshirt freshman Thomas Baldwin also has a year in the system after redshirting in 2014, as did redshirt freshmen Clark Gary and Billy Robinson. True freshmen Pace Temple, Earl Gill, James Marbaugh, Connor Rago, Ryan Smith, and Ryan Gallagher are also in the mix.

In three-wide receiver sets, those wideouts will often be paired with a tight end. Senior TE Zack Wolfe headlines an extremely experienced position group and finished fourth on the team in receptions, first among tight ends. He had 17 receptions for 203 yards a season ago, while also playing a lead role in generating holes for the running game. Wolfe averaged 11.9 yards per catch and 20.3 yards per game with a long of 34 yards and one touchdown. In 2014, Wolfe had a career-high five receptions for a career-best 71 yards against Jacksonville, caught four passes for 55 yards at Valparaiso, pulled in a touchdown pass against Taylor and was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll.

Redshirt sophomore TE McCord Collier saw significant time a season ago and will be called upon again in 2015. Collier played in all 11 games, had one reception for nine yards against Jacksonville, and was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll. Redshirt senior Cody Bowling and senior Jake Doman provide experience. Redshirt freshman Jacob Lewis and freshman Sam Yeaton are a pair of young players from Ohio.

Starting with the first snap of the season, the coaching staff and quarterbacks will have the full scope of the offense available due to the experience and talent that returns on the outside in 2015.

THE RUNNING BACKS

Of any unit on the 2014 Butler Bulldogs, it was the running backs that left their paw print on the team and consistently stole the show. Arguably the deepest position is in the offensive backfield. Most of Butler’s sets utilize only one running back, and the team has the talent and the depth to have an explosive and fresh option lined up behind the quarterback on every play again in 2015.

Photo: Butler Athletics/Sam Schrader (Brent Smith)
Photo: Butler Athletics/Sam Schrader (Brent Smith)

Redshirt sophomore Sam Schrader exploded onto the scene in 2014 and was named the team’s “Offensive Top Dog” (MVP) after leading the Bulldogs in rushing and scoring. He rushed for 604 yards in ten games and scored nine rushing touchdowns and a team-high 11 touchdowns with two through the air. He ranked third in the PFL in touchdowns and fifth in overall scoring. Schrader finished the season with 815 all-purpose yards. Schrader averaged a staggering 8.2 yards per rush and 60.4 rushing yards per game with a long of 83 yards.

Schrader rushed for a career-high 193 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries at Stetson, recorded an 83-yard touchdown run against Stetson, posted 162 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries against Morehead State, named PFL Offensive Player of the Week following Butler’s victory over Morehead State, caught a career-high three passes for a career-best 95 yards and one touchdown against Wittenberg, and was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll, and 2014 Jerry Rice Award (FCS Freshman Player of the Year) Finalist.

Schrader’s return, along with the development of several other backs, allowed the Butler staff the luxury of transitioning starting RB Guy DiBalsamo to wide receiver for the 2015 season. He was the team’s second-leading rusher a season ago with 311 yards on 71 attempts for an average of 4.4 yards per carry, 28.3 yards per game, one rushing touchdown and a long of 57 yards. DiBalsamo ran for a career-high 72 yards on five carries against San Diego, scored on a career-long, 57-yard run against San Diego and on a 17-yard reception against the Toreros.

Senior Rico Watson will see a larger role in 2015. He recorded 112 yards on 30 attempts for an average of 3.7 yards per carry, 16 yards per game, one rushing touchdown and a long of 14 yards in 7 games. Redshirt sophomore Duvante Lane returns after 15 yards on two carries in 2014.

“Competition is there every day,” said Running Backs Coach Patrick Doherty. “The running backs, they call themselves ‘The Juice’, they are bringing the juice, they’re bring the competition, the energy every day. We’re mainly a one-back system and each guy is working to get to that next spot. If they’re not quite the guy yet, they’re working hard to be that guy. ‘The Juice’ is a family, they compete every play working to get better.”

Redshirt freshmen John Hall and Anthony Scaccia will see their first official snaps in a Butler uniform this season. The two contributed in their redshirt seasons, being recognized with the “Unsung Hero Award” as the co-recipients on offense for their work on the scout team. True freshmen Brad Sznajder and Tim Vestuto provide depth at the position.

The Bulldogs’ coaching staff has the luxury of experience, talent and depth among the running backs corps and the unenviable task of divvying up the carries. While Butler has plenty of solid individuals, the only finished 10th-of-11th in the PFL in Rushing Offense, posting 1537 yards on a conference low 338 attempts. They averaged a PFL second best 4.5 yards per carry, 139.7 yards per game, 17 touchdowns and a PFL best 83 yard long run.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE

Just with any football team, no offense can operate at a high level without solid offensive line play. Despite not spending much time together in the huddle, Butler’s offensive line has used the spring and fall to gel as a cohesive unit. The Bulldogs’ no-huddle offense and tempo require a smart and versatile player along the offensive line. Coach Jeff Voris and Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Kyle Conner have an experienced group to pull from.

2015_Offensive_LineThe Bulldogs were counting on All-Pioneer Football League honoree senior OL Michael Demos to be part of the line in 2015. Unfortunately, a back injury will sideline Demos for the season. Demos had started 24 consecutive games. Demos earned Butler’s Offensive Battle of the Trenches (Most Valuable Lineman) Award, was second team Academic All-PFL, started in all 11 games, was named to the PFL Academic Honor Roll and was named 2014 First Team All-PFL. He will redshirt the season with plans to return in 2016.

Demos was set to line up next to several linemen with significant experience. Redshirt seniors Max Brodbeck and David Tiwari will anchor the line in their fifth seasons, respectively. Brodbeck started 10 games a season ago en route to All-PFL honorable mention honors. Tiwari started 29 consecutive games over the course of his first 2.5 seasons before an injury sidelined him halfway through the 2014 campaign. He received All-PFL honorable mention and second team accolades in his first two seasons of competition.

“Us (Butler) having older guys, a couple seniors up front and a couple of guys that started last year certainly is going to help us in games where we may not be as good as the other team, but if we have five guys working together, we are going to be able to get the job done,” said Offensive coordinator Kyle Conner.

Snaps along the front line will feature a group of returning linemen who each have played PFL games and utilized a redshirt year. The group includes Tom Brown, Joe Hackett, Nestor Porres, Michael Robinson, and Brad Weber.

In recent years, Butler has maximized redshirt years, especially along the offensive line. The most recent group – Bram Epstein, Bobby Jensen, Patrick Mosby, Alex Peterson, and Dakota Sneed – will look for their first Butler snaps during the 2015 season. Depth is provided by a group of true freshmen in Tyler Bolger, Brennan Bosch, Tommy Kennedy, Mitch Krusz, John McArthur, Jake Plantz, and Christian Stewart.

Butler’s quarterbacks will enjoy seeing familiar guys in the trenches this season, even if they won’t get to spend much time with them in the huddle

OVERALL OFFENSE

The Bulldogs certainly had their moments on offense last season and have plenty of exciting players returning from injuries and another year in 2015, but Butler will need to improve on a 9th place Total Offense rating in the PFL. Butler totaled a league worst 3871 yards on second worst 720 plays. The Bulldogs averaged 5.4 yards per play and 351.9 yards per game with 32 touchdowns.

One doesn’t have to look any farther then Time of Possession to understand Butler’s woes on offense. Butler averaged a league worst 299:24 minutes of possession for a league worst average of 27:13 minutes per game.

Butler also struggled finding pay-dirt in 2014, ranking 8th in Red Zone Offense with 19-of-27 scores (70.4%) and a league worst 14 touchdowns. Butler also had three red zone turnovers.

Butler managed to post decent marks in 3rd Down Conversions, but dead last in 4th Down Conversions. Butler ranked 7th on 3rd Down Conversions after converting 58-of-161 attempts (36%). Butler’s 11th place 4th down success rate came after converting 4-of-19 attempts (21.1%).

The pressure will be on the offense to stay healthy and generate numerous long and successful scoring drives in 2015.

The Bulldogs open the 2015 campaign Saturday, Sept. 5 at Indiana State. The home opener is slated for Saturday, Sept. 12 when Butler hosts Franklin. PFL action begins Sept. 26 when Campbell visits the Butler Bowl for Butler’s Homecoming Weekend.

Chris Fultz is a senior writer for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by Butler Athletics and has full media access. Follow @CafultzISR and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter

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