Greetings, Lion fans. In this week’s edition of the Pre Snap Read, we’ll take a look at how the Lions offense matches up against an old foe in the Javelinas of Texas A&M-Kingsville.
There’s not many positives to draw from a second consecutive loss, another in which the offense seem to sputter to a halt in the second half, leaving the Blue Gang on the field for far too many plays before finally breaking.
There are some, though. The Lions were going toe to toe with top ranked West Florida, and maintained a 17-14 lead deep into the third quarter. They were able to take advantage of a huge turnover on a fumbled punt, forged a lead, and held on until they just couldn’t any longer.
That being said, the Lions are now through the toughest part of their schedule. The highlight of the remainder are games with West Texas A&M and Angelo State, both on the road. While these two are somewhat of a challenge, the balance of the schedule is very, very winnable. If the Lions win out, that would put them at a 9-2 record, with losses to the current #1 and #15, with a win over a #12 when they faced Commerce. That is a record that should easily earn the Lions another playoff berth. That’s all a team can ask for. Get to the playoffs, then let the chips fall where they may.
NO TIME TO PANIC-Despite the consecutive losses in what must seem like forever, this is still not the time to panic. In 1979, I was part of one of Ernest Hawkins’s more run of the mill teams, at first glance. We lost our first three games that season. Not just lost, I mean got beat. That season, just like now, WAS NOT OVER. We were able to rally, won 5 out of the next 6 games, including the 3-0 shocker(to everyone but us), and if not for a controversial out of bounds ruling in San Angelo ( to this day, I still say Lonnie Cunigan was in bounds), that pride of Lions would have finished 6-4, and would have finished in a tie with Texas A&I at the top of the Lone Star Conference, and would own the tiebreaker in the head to head matchup.
Bottom Line…..this season is not done yet. Nowhere close. Now, speaking of the Javelinas…..
BY THE NUMBERS:
UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE:
Lion Offensive Line: 6’4″ 308 lbs.
Javelina Front Six: 6’2″ 260 lbs.
If there has been one consistent performance so far from the Lion offense, it has been the offensive line. The familiar names of Simon, Dafft, Hernandez, West, and Thomas have been a driving force that has opened holes for the running game, and given the quarterback time to throw. The Javelina down linemen and linebackers are very experienced and have some good size and strength in the middle. Senior linebacker Joesph Kirkland (6’1″ 220 lbs.) leads the team in tackles with 26 (9 solo) He is closely followed by down lineman Tevita Mounga (6’3″ 215 lbs., Sr.), who has 14 total tackles (3 solo). The Javelinas have been very effective at stopping the run early this season, and given the difficulties in the Lion passing game, they’re sure to cheat a safety or two closer to the line of scrimmage, and load up the box to stuff the Lion offense.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE:
The Lion receiving corps, while showing some flashes, have yet to have that real breakout performance. Senior Chance Cooper (6’3″ 200 lbs.), continues to lead the group with 12 catches for 187 yards,, a pair of touchdowns, and a long of 65 yards. Redshirt junior Matt Childers (6’4″ 180 lbs.) follows with 4 catches and 82 yards, with a long of 44. Redshirt sophomore Kenedy Snell (5’9′ 160 lbs.) has 3 grabs for 68 yards, with a long of 52 yards.
The Javelina back line is a young and talented group, led by redshirt sophomore Cameron Cauthen (6’1″ 200 lbs.), who is second on the team in tackles with 20 (9 solo). They have very good size for defensive backs, averaging 6’0″ and 194 lbs., a good explanation of why the Kingsville run defense has been so effective this early in the season.
Redshirt junior Jaiave Magalei (6’3″ 235 lbs.), while showing some promise, continues to struggle filling in for the injured Miklo Smalls. Magalei is 39-79 for an average of 155.6 yards per game, with 3 interceptions, 4 touchdowns, and a long of 65 yards.
Redshirt senior Antonio Lealiiee (5’11” 210 lbs.)continues to lead the team in rushing, with 209 yards on 31 carries, and a long of 54 yards. Senior E.J. Thompson (5’9″ 200 lbs.) follows with 137 yards on 29 carries, one touchdown, and a long of 15 yards. He also has displayed a talent for catching the ball out of the backfield, with 6 catches for 33 yards.
The Lions are certainly going to have to find some consistency in order to win this one.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED- Redshirt senior Jake Viquez (5’10” 190 lbs.)continues to make his mark on the Lion record books, going 6 for 8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 52. He has been near perfect on extra point attempts. Redshirt sophomore Emmanuel Adagbon (5’11” 205 lbs.) continues to slowly improve. While an overall average of 29.2 yards on 10 punts is not earth shattering, he does have a long of 44 yards, and has been consistent in being able to flip field position in the Lions favor.
The Javelina return game has been explosive. Sophomore wide receiver Craig Clemons (5’10” 175 lbs.) leads the team in punt returns with a 30.5 yard average on a pair of returns, with a long of 58 yards. He also has a pair of kickoff returns for a 22.5 yard average, with a long of 23. Redshirt sophomore defensive back Amos Coleman (5’11” 185 lbs.) has 4 kickoff returns for a 23.0 yard average, with a long of 32.
THE LIONS WIN THIS MATCHUP IF:
IRONING OUT THE KINKS-The offense has to find a way to cut down on the pre snap and procedure penalties, which can be drive killers, ruining any momentum the Lions have built.
A CHANGE NEEDS TO COME-For whatever reason, the offense, the offense has just not clicked so far this season with Magalei under center. All the tools seem to be there-a dynamic offensive coordinator in Billy Riebock, who has an open and varied playbook to take advantage in the Lions offensive arsenal. A huge, experienced, and talented offensive line that provides time to throw, and has made the running game effective. A stable of big and fast receivers that are proven talents.
So, why then is this offense, while anticipated would not be as explosive with the off season injury to Smalls, but would still be one that would pile up the total yards and points, continue to struggle? Only 7 explosive plays of 20 yards or more. An average of 5.9 yards per pass attempt. That is not a misprint. 5.9 yards per pass attempt in three games.
One could excuse the windy conditions in Pueblo, and everything that goes with the first start. The past 8 quarters, though, have seen what was anticipated to a high octane, high performance race car instead being stalled on the side of the highway with the check engine light on.
The struggles are not from a lack of effort from anyone, coaching staff or players. Yet, the struggles are still there.
So, what needs to be done? The discussions in the spring, and late into the summer was, that if Smalls was unable to go, that freshman sensation Eric Rodriguez was more than capable of directing the offense. In limited action this season, Rodriguez has shown no fear in forcing the ball into a tight window, and always seems to be in an aggressive mode every time he takes the field. Maybe now is the time for him to have a chance. This is by no means a knock on the play or leadership abilities of Jaiave Magalei. Sometimes, things just aren’t working for a stretch, just like a starting pitcher in baseball that needs to work on some things, and a call to the bullpen is in order. That’s all this is . A call to the offensive bullpen.
THIRD DOWNS-The Lion offense simply has to do a better job of converting third down opportunities. Currently, the conversion rate for the Lions on third down is 28 %. Slightly better than 1 in 4 third downs. Unless the Lions improve here, the defense will be on the field much longer than they should, and what we’ve seen in the second half the past two weeks certainly won’t get much better.
FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD-To borrow a phrase from my co-editor, Brian. The Lions have just not, for whatever reason, done a good job of getting the ball downfield. 5.9 yards per attempt, only 4 pass completions of 20 plus yards, especially in these days of wide open offenses and stricter pass interference rules, just doesn’t work. This has to change, and quickly.
HANG TOUGH-I was fortunate enough to exchange several letters with the late Major Richard Winters of Band of Brothers fame after the HBO miniseries came out. He was nice enough to sign a print for me, and it is one of my most prized possessions. He signed with the term “hang tough.” Meaning, no matter the situation or circumstance, just keep working, keep fighting, keep doing the little things to give yourself a better chance to succeed. Don’t ever give up, don’t ever quit. HANG TOUGH.
See you Saturday.