When Peru State head coach Steve Schneider was promoted from offensive coordinator before last season, he and his staff identified areas needing improvement that had nothing to do with statistics.
Intangibles like unity, leadership, disciplined play and setting high expectations.
“We’re well on our way to improving in those areas,” Schneider said. “A big part of the success of a football team is those things, just as important as the X’s and O’s.”
Schneider said improvement in those areas helped the Bobcats make big strides in his first year at the helm. Peru State went from 2-8 in 2011 to 5-6 last season — the team’s second year in the NAIA’s Heart of America Athletic Conference.
Last season, Peru State switched from a spread-formation passing attack that, when struggling, kept its defense on the field for long stretches. The Bobcats’ move to an option-based running game allowed them to control clock and grind out a couple of more victories.
With a successful formula identified and several key starters returning, Peru State is looking to take the next step forward in the HAAC, which has five teams in the NAIA preseason top 25. Schneider said the Bobcats return eight starters on offense, though they suffered a big loss when leading rusher Ryan Ludlow, a junior from Plattsmouth who rushed for 1,219 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago, transferred to Wayne State.
Vying to replace Ludlow will be junior Ethan Bray from Liberal, Mo., and Adam Neels, a sophomore out of Elmwood-Murdock. Gretna product Bo Shepard, a junior, returns for his second year as starting quarterback, and may be asked to put the ball in the air more than last year, when the Bobcats were second-to-last in the HAAC in passing.
“Our game plan is the physical run game, option game we have,” Schneider said. “It was pretty vanilla last year. We’re going to try to add variety and add some new things this year.”
The majority of the Peru State offensive line returns led by All-HAAC tackle Tyler Ford, a junior from Lincoln Southeast. Another Gretna alum, junior Dwight Jones, joins 335-pound sophomore Dillon Bruggeman (Lincoln High) and senior Dayton Graf (Lincoln Southwest) on the line.
Defensively, the Bobcats bring back six starters and have made some position switches to get more speed on the field, according to Schneider.
The Peru State defense figures to be led by two-time All-HAAC defensive lineman Zach Lempka, from Sterling, Neb., and linebacker Curtis Larsen, a three-year starter from Plattsmouth who was fifth in the conference with 89 tackles in 2012.
To add more athleticism to the defense, the Bobcat coaches switched tight end Shane Lloyd to outside linebacker, and backup quarterback/running back Tyler Audsley is now in the defensive backfield.
Schneider said he hopes an improved defense can help bolster the Bobcats’ conference-worst turnover margin and maybe squeeze out another win or two in 2013.
“We need to do a better job of creating takeaways on defense,” he said. “Our goal is if we keep it to one turnover or less on offense and create two turnovers per game on defense, that will enhance our ability to be successful.”