Typically this is the write up where I grade the team units, give MVP’s out, and also just opine on the overall performance, but today I am going to skip that and just go straight into some thoughts and where the roads from here.
For starters, this group was probably the most underrated team in the entire nation, and truth be told, might be better than the team we had last year as an overall group. No, it did not have the sheer offensive firepower of last year or the big names and the national exposure that our group last year did. This team had something else, something different, and something special. Offensively, I remember watching the spring game and just hanging my head thinking what a long season this was going to be because I did not see anything but mistakes, lack of communication, and no execution. This team proved me wrong and I have never been more happy to be wrong. Harrison Stewart has done a superb job thus far. There was talk that maybe he needed to be faster or more athletic. Let me say this, Harrison Stewart is a fine quarterback, one of the best pro style QB’s I have seen on this level. Richard Cooper and Theo Wofford are two great backs that are not just good runners, but good receivers out of the backfield and excellent pass blockers. The line has done a fantastic job of not only protecting Stewart, but opening holes up for the RB’s. and just whipping the butts of so many defensive lines. When he has been called upon, back up QB Gabe Rodriguez, who looks to be Stewart’s heir apparent, has been fantastic in the truck package formation getting Touchdowns rather than Field Goals.
Defensively, this has been a group effort. The Line put pressure on every QB they faced, the linebackers and secondary both made huge plays that resulted in turnovers and then scores for the offense. Guys like Toni Pulu, Cole Pitts, Charles Woods, Devarus Shores, and Steven Baker have been laying serious wood on people, and every single team that this group played have virtually all said the same thing, that the Lion defense is the best they had played to that point. That speaks volumes. It is the best defense I have seen in Commerce as an overall unit in years.
Special teams wise, Kris Martinez showed he is mature beyond his years. One year ago, he was just a high school kid in the South Texas valley, and he is now the kicker of a conference championship team as a true freshman. Chase Thrasher was a Freshman when the team went 1-9, and now he will leave Commerce with two Conference championship rings. He is another one of those unsung heroes that has done so much, and believe you me, his punting has just gotten better and it will be more important in these next three games. Probably the most overlooked guys in all of Football is the holder, and Trevor Lasseter and Jared Cate have both done fantastic jobs of getting quality holds for both Martinez and Thrasher. What Special teams show is that a team that is truly a team when all sides of the ball are doing their jobs and playing at a high level. Oh and let’s not forget Buck Wilson, the Commerce native who has been the best return man in the league.
Coaching…….all of this started when Dr. Daniel Jones, our University President, found Ryan Ivey and hired him, who then hired Colby Carthel. The reason that so much has changed back to the excellence and tradition that our institution was founded on is because we found 3 men who made decisions to get us back to the pinnacle of not just being a great program in Football, but a great University and Community as a whole. To Ryan Ivey, as much as we wish you were here to enjoy this, we know your hard work helped get us here, and wish you well at Austin Peay, and we welcome Tim McMurray to the Blacklands and hope for continued success.
The Road Ahead- Next week, the Lions leave the confines of the Blackland Prairies to head deep into the Piney woods of Deep East Texas by traveling to face a very good Sam Houston State Bearkat team. Without a doubt, this is the toughest opponent we have played in years. Not only are they Division I, but they are an elite Division I team. This team gave Texas Tech all they could handle, and they are ranked # 9 in the country in Division I FCS. This game is certainly a measuring stick of how good we are as a program and Football team. We won’t have much time after that game for the conference playoffs, but it appears that we will be getting Angelo State in the first round of the Conference playoffs in Commerce. That is not going to be easy, nor will any game be for the rest of the year.
Playoff Stupidity- I am going to say something I have been wanting to say for over a year. What point is a conference championship if it does not lock up a playoff spot? These regional rankings are so insanely stupid. I will use 2013 as an example. West Texas A&M finished 3rd in the conference and got the playoff spot, but Eastern New Mexico and Tarleton tied for first, and ENMU stayed home, no bowl or anything. If anyone should have stayed home that year it was either us or Tarleton, but the idea that a Conference Championship that wins it outright and loses one game in a “Conference playoff” (another dumb idea), they could stay home. The NCAA needs to do the right and sane thing, and give the Conference Champion an automatic playoff berth and if there are other teams in that conference they believe should be in, then they should be on the bubble, where they belong.
Will be previewing Sam Houston by Tuesday, but for now let’s enjoy this.