The Pre Snap Read: Lion Offense vs. Bearkat Defense

Greetings, Lion fans, and after the monumental disappointment in Tennessee last Saturday, there’s no rest for the weary, as the Lions make the trek down I-45 South to Huntsville for their biggest game of the season so far against the Sam Houston State Bearkats. This is a true measuring stick game for the Lions, to see just who and where they are, and where they need to be. This one’s not going to be easy, folks, but as 16-time world heavyweight wrestling champion Ric Flair would say:

In order to be The Man, ya gotta beat The Man.”

That’s what the Lions face this week. If they want to be contenders in the Southland Conference, then matchups like this one are what they should live for. These games are why you play.

Before we dive in, though, let’s take a look at the disaster that was Tennessee Tech last week.

A LOOK BACK: There is no other way to describe the game in Cookville, Tennessee last week, than to call it what it was: an unmitigated disaster. Let us get this out of the way now: It would be a different matter if the Lions were simply outclassed and dominated by a superior FCS team that would be anticipated in the transition process. No, this was a game the Lions should have won, and won easily.

Except it wasn’t. At one point, the Lions had a 19-6 lead, and for a bit of better fortune in two dropped passes inside the five-yard line, they would have been well in control of a 26-6 game. Sophomore Eric Rodriguez, 95’9″ 165 lbs., Soph.) went out with an injury early in the third quarter, and from that point onward, the Lion offense went into a shell. Very conservative play calling, seemingly content to run the ball, and very short, controlled passes, did little but allow a Tennessee Tech team that the Lions had DOMINATED up until that point to creep back into the game, and when the defense had at last been exhausted, give up the winning touchdown with two seconds left.

If it seems like, as Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “deja vu all over again”, well, it was. In 2021 against Midwestern State, the Lions raced out to a 23-10 halftime lead, and a 30-17 lead at the end of the third, only to lose in the final seconds, 31-30.

It didn’t end there. In what has become a common thread, the Lion offense gets out to a significant lead, then goes dormant, and leans on the defense to bring home the win. What has occurred, though, that despite numerous substitutions in an attempt to keep players fresh, after a game of chasing four and five wide receiver sets, trying to do their best to stop the run and control mobile quarterbacks, the defense is just worn out. Example:

In 2021, against Midwestern, the Lions ran 65 plays, the Mustangs 79

Against West Florida, the Lions ran 61 plays, the Argonauts 67

Against Saginaw Valley, the Lions ran 76 plays, the Cardinals 56

Against Angelo State, the Lions ran 66 plays, the Rams 55.

Last week, the Lions ran 65 plays, the Golden Eagles 74.

Add to this, special teams substitution issues, and what can only be described as a VERY QUESTIONABLE decision to pass on a long field goal attempt by Emmanuel Adagbon, which would have given the Lions a 22-6 lead, only to line up in a regular formation, but instead of what appeared to be a pooch punt by the holder, the Lions ran a regular pass play that went incomplete, and the ball was turned over on downs.

A night of complete and total frustration ends with the question: WHY?

Where do we go from here?

This Saturday, it’s Huntsville, and Sam Houston State. Let’s get to it.

OVERVIEW: The Bearkats are coached by K.C. Keeler, who has a 79-22 record in his ninth season. His Bearkats were National Champions in the 2020-21 COVID season, a last second thriller against South Dakota State.

The Lions and Bearkats are long time Lone Star Conference foes, with the Lions holding a 39-24-1 edge. The first game was played all the way back in 1919, a 21-7 Lion win. The last matchup was in 2015 and ended in a 38-24 Bearkat win. The Lions had a lead in that game late into the third quarter before falling to the eventual FCS semifinalist.

BY THE NUMBERS:

Lion Offense:

Points: 38.5 ppg

Rush: 161.5 ypg

Pass: 247.5 ypg

Total: 409.0 ypg

Turnovers: 4

Bearkat Defense:

Points: 20.5 ppg

Rush: 84.5 ypg

Pass: 321.0 ypg

Total: 405.0 ypg

Turnovers: 5

In an impressive start, the Sam Houston defense only allowed 31 points to then #6 ranked FBS Texas A&M, and 10 points in a loss to fellow FCS member Northern Arizona. At 0-2 and coming home to face a newcomer to Division 1 in the Lions, the Bearkats are sure to be angry and anxious to rid their tastebuds of the bitterness of defeat.

UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE

Lion Offensive Line: 6’3″ 293 lbs.

Bearkat Front Six: 6’1″ 246 lbs.

Don’t let the numbers fool you: The Bearkats are big, fast, and disruptive along the front. They are led in tackles by redshirt senior linebacker Trevor Williams (5’9″ 210 lbs.), who has 14 tackles (5 solo). Sophomore linebacker Kavian Gaither (6’0″ 200 lbs.) has 12 tackles (4 solo). Like most solid defenses, the Bearkat defensive line ties up the offensive blockers, allowing the linebackers to roam free and make plays.

The Lion offensive line, led by senior Rehoboth Chibesa (6’3″ 309 lbs.) and fellow senior Solomon Ndukwe (6’3″ 318 lbs.) have been very effective so far. The injury suffered by Eric Rodriguez last week was on a running play. This week, though, they are certain to face their toughest test.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE:

Lion Movers/Shakers: 5’11” 194 lbs.

Bearkat Back Line: 6’0″ 187 lbs.

The Bearkats are led in the secondary by University of Texas transfer B.J. Foster (6’2″ 205 lbs), who, so far, has lived up to the hype that surrounded his arrival in Huntsville. The leaders in tackles are senior Isaiah Downes (6’0″ 180 lbs.) who has 12(12 solo), and junior Darrel Hawkins-Williams (5′ 10″ 190 lbs.), who has 12 tackles (8 solo). Again, do not be fooled by the 305 yards per game average given up so far. Texas A&M has a stable of very, very good receivers, and Northern Arizona is no slouch.

As of this writing, the status of sophomore Eric Rodriguez (5’9″ 196 lbs.) is unknown. The apparent QB1 would be Ohio State and Texas A&M transfer Jagger Laroe (6’3″ 231 lbs.) who has appeared to suffer from a lack of confidence so far. However, with a full week working with the first unit, should see improvement.

The human Swiss Army knife, junior Spencer Long (5’11” 196 lbs., Jr.), who just seems to excel in any position that he’s put in on a football field, made a big splash offensively last week with 10 carries for 94 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown burst.

Sophomore wide receiver Andrew Armstrong continued his stellar play last week with 6 catches for 95 yards, and yet another touchdown, giving him four already this season. Sophomore Jaden Proctor (5’8″ 155 lbs.) has 6 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown this year. Senior wide receiver B.J. Busbee (5’7″ 145 lbs.) continues his steady progress with 6 catches for 63 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.

If the offensive line is able to keep the quarterback in a clean pocket, there should be some opportunities for Lion receivers downfield.

VERY SPECIAL, INDEED: The Bearkats are led in punt returns by redshirt freshman Zach Hrbacek (5’9″ 175 lbs.), who has one return for 13 yards. Wide receiver Noah Smith (5’10” 190 lbs. Jr.) has two kick returns for an average of 17.5 yards.

Lion junior kicker Emmanuel Adagbon was 2 of 2 on field goals and did miss an extra point due to a bad snap. Sophomore Mitchell McGarry, who, despite having just about every punt back spin towards him when it landed, still averaged just over 34 yards per punt, with a long of 45 yards. Freshman Aiden Martin was again solid on his kickoffs.

THE LIONS WIN THIS MATCHUP IF: After the debacle of last week’s loss to a team they should have beaten, it might seem impossible. Except that it’s not. In 1979, Ernest Hawkins’s Lions were soundly thrashed by a very good Southwest Texas (now Texas State) team, 45-14 in San Marcos. The next week, longtime rival, #1 ranked, and eventual national champion Texas A&I came to town, and left Commerce with a 3-0 loss. In 2015, Colby Carthel took a team that was young and building into a hostile environment in Huntsville and gave the national semifinalist Bearkats everything they could handle and then some. More recently, in 2019, Tarleton State was ranked #3 in the nation, and were winners of three straight over the Lions, including a playoff win in 2018. However, in 2019, the Lions finally broke through and handed Tarleton it’s final loss in Division 2 and eliminated them from the playoffs by a score of 23-16. Make no mistake, this can happen.

The Lions, though, will have to play their best game of the year, and rise above the doubt. The foolish penalties have to be gone. That, and if they can avoid the turnovers and giving up the big play, should give themselves a chance.

A chance to win.

See You in Huntsville

Roar Back Here.....

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