Greetings, Lion fans, and in this week’s edition of the Notebook, we’ll take a closer look at one of the biggest games all time in Memorial Stadium history. The Lions and the Argonauts of #1 West Florida are set to lock horns in the Game of The Year to date in Division II. There hasn’t been a game of this magnitude in Commerce since the National Semifinal against Harding in 2017 The question is: how will the Lion defense react after a last second loss last week, to now facing one of the top offenses and the best quarterback in the country? We’ll break it all down here, but first we’ll take a look back and what was one of those games that leaves you scratching your head.
DO WHAT?-Despite forcing three turnovers, and outside of a 90 plus yard drive, holding Midwestern State to 184 yards total offense, and four quarterback sacks, the Lions still came out on the wrong end of a 31-30 final. If there was an Achilles’ Heel to their efforts, it was the failure to get off the field on fourth down. The Mustangs were successful on all four of their fourth down attempts, including the last one with 25 seconds left inside the Lions 5 yard line that led to the winning score.
On the plus side, the Blue Gang was able to get good pressure on the Midwestern passer for the most part, and limited the Mustangs to less than 3 yards per rushing attempt. The effort is there. The talent is there. Presently, it is a matter of fine tuning and adjustments.
Now, onto West Florida.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Total- 488.5 ypg
Turnovers- 2 (-1)
Points 18.5 ppg
Rush- 99.0 ypg
Pass- 152.0 ypg
Total- 251.0 ypg
The Argonauts are a pass first, explosive offense, that likes to take their chances downfield. They certainly have the quarterback to do it in redshirt sophomore Austin Reed (6’2″ 220 lbs.) Reed set a single game record in the championship game in 2019 against Minnesota State Mankato with 523 yards and six touchdowns.
The Blue Gang defense , especially the interior line, has done a good job stopping the run and getting pressure on the passer, led by redshirt senior defensive end Elijah Earls (6’0″ 240 lbs.) and senior defensive tackle Ben Hutch (6’4″ 305 lbs.). They highlight a defensive line rotation that goes up to 12 deep, enabling defensive coordinator Xavier Adibi to keep fresh bodies in the game. With the stout West Florida offensive attack, the Lions are going to need it.
UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE
Argonaut Offensive Line: 6’3″ 300 lbs.
Blue Gang Front Six: 6’1″ 262 lbs.
The West Florida offensive line is a big, experienced group, led by graduate student transfer Kenneth Roman (6’5″ 305 lbs.), that has allowed only one sack so far this season.
The Lion defensive line has a wealth of talent. in addition to the aforementioned Earls and Hutch, familiar names like Devin Beamon (6’1″ 290 lbs.) and redshirt senior Jaylon Hodge (6’0″ 275 lbs.)are just two of the standouts that make the defense the force that it is. If the Lions are to win this game, and they certainly can, it will be key for them to get pressure on Austin Reed. Not necessarily sacks, but force him to move in the pocket, make him uncomfortable, and throw off his timing.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE-
Argonauts Backs/Receivers: 6’1″ 200 lbs.
Blue Gang Back Line: 5’10” 186 lbs.
This looks to be one heck of a match up. West Florida is led in rushing by sophomore running back Shomari Mason (5’6″ 170 lbs.), who had 129 yards on 188 attempts, with two touchdowns, and a long of 17 yards. He is closely followed by fellow sophomore Ra’Veion Hargrove (5’6″ 180 lbs.)with 63 yards on 9 carries, with a touchdown, and a long of 22 yards.
The receiving corps is headed up by redshirt sophomore David Durden (6’2″ 200 lbs.), with 10 catches for 238 yards, with 3 touchdowns, and a long 0f 74 yards. He is followed by a couple of names familiar to Lion fans from 2017: Redshirt senior Rodney Coates (6’2″ 195 lbs.) with 13 catches for 194 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a long of 36 yards, and fellow redshirt senior Ka”Ron Ashley (6’3″ 165 lbs.), who has 4 catches for 81 yards, one touchdown, and a long of 26 yards.
The straw that stirs the drink of the West Florida offense is redshirt sophomore Austin Reed (6’2″ 220 lbs.). He has picked up right where he left off after a spectacular 2019 campaign, completing 39 passes in 62 attempts, one interception, 637 yards, 8 touchdowns, and a long of 74 yards. He has good size and pocket presence, and an ability to keep plays alive with his feet.
The Blue Gang secondary is led by the usual suspects. redshirt senior Alex Shillow, fellow redshirt senior Kader Kohou, redshirt junior Darius Williams, and senior D’Angelo Ellis. They have been excellent in run support, and despite a 50/50 jump ball against CSU-P, have been effective against the pass. They will certainly be tested this week.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED- The Argonaut kicking manned is manned by senior punter Steve Dawson (6’0″ 200 lbs.,) who has two punts for a 44.0 yard average, with a long of 47. As prolific as the West Florida offense has been, Dawson doesn’t get much work. Graduate Student transfer Danny lauder (6’3″ 235lbs.) has missed his only field goal attempt, but is 14 for 14 on extra points.
The Lion return game fared better last week, despite a fumble on an ill advised attempt by one Lion returner who picked up a punt on the bounce, try and return it, only to fumble the ball.
The Mustangs were the latest team to completely avoid punting the ball anywhere in the same area code as Dominique Ramsey. Ramsey still managed 5.3 yards on 3 returns, with a long of 9 yards. Ramsey also had 3 kickoff returns for a 14 yard average, with a long of 16. Redshirt senior Kader Kohou had 3 returns for a 10.3 yard average, with a long of 18
Hang in there, Lion fans. Sooner of later, one or both of these two will get a kick to handle. Then look for the fireworks.
THE LIONS WIN THIS MATCHUP IF:
CONTROL AUSTIN REED- As goes Reed, so goes the Argonaut offense. It’s vital for the Lion defense to force him to move around in the pocket, pressure him, make him uncomfortable and throw off his timing. Of course, sacking Reed would be a nice bonus, but it is more important to allow him not become settled in the pocket and have time to look over the field.
PLAY THE FULL 60- Again, keep the foot on the gas. To borrow a line from actor Craig T. Nelson from the TV series Coach, “bury them with a shovel, then bury the shovel.” Keep working, keep grinding, and don’t back off. You can bet that is the message from David Bailiff and his staff this week.
MAKE THE ROUTINE PLAY- As my cohort Brian Pate would say. “make the simple play look simple.” Make the solid tackle and get the offensive player on the ground. An ESPN highlight reel play isn’t what’s needed.
NO BIG PLAYS- West Florida lives for the explosive play. It’s key for the Lion secondary to keep the ball in front of them and force the Argonauts to drive the length of the field, where the chances are much better for the Lions to stop them or create a turnover.
TICK TOCK, TICK TOCK- The Lions must be able to run the football. The longer they keep it, the less time that West Florida offense has. If they are able to move the ball on the ground, it forces West Florida to take more chances defensively, and their defense has shown a tendency to be soft in pass coverage. It also forces their offense, especially if the Lions are able to score early and often, to press, and again, take chances they might not normally take.
THE VERDICT- Lion fans, it cannot be overstated just how big this game really is. The Lions are coming off a loss to a bitter rival, and now face the #1 team in the country, with one of the best quarterbacks in the country. A very tall task, indeed.
As tough as things surrounding this game may seem, there are some intangibles that are definitely working in the Lions favor. For the first time, they return to the friendly confines of The Hawk, where, in a game like this. There is certain to be some “Hawkins Magic” to be found.
This game harkens back to a very similar, yet little known situation that you wouldn’t know about unless you were there. During the 1979 season, the Lions had been up and down all year. The Wade Wilson led offense had been sputtering. Bobby Fox’s Blue Gang had just given up 45 points to Southwest Texas State. A player on that team….current Lion head coach David Bailiff.
Then, like now, another top ranked team came to Commerce. Texas A&I was #1, undefeated, and rolling. NFL Hall of Famer Darrell Green was on that roster. They were good, and like now there were some that didn’t think the Lions had much of a chance.
Until they did. In one of the Wizard’s greatest acts, Ernest Hawkins guided the Lions to a 3-0 shutout win. Then, like now , you had to believe. It it that time once more.
The best way to describe this is with a line from the movie Miracle, in which Coach Herb Brooks, played by actor Kurt Russell, said the following to his team before the climatic game against the Soviet Union:
“ Great moments are born of great opportunity. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight”
See You at The Hawk.