The Pre-Snap Read: Lion Offense vs. Huskies Defense.

Greetings, Lion fans, and in the days to come following the completion of the 2022 Lion football season, there will be signposts along the way to determine just how things went for A&M-Commerce in their inaugural Southland Conference season. What follows is one of those moments, and it was a good one.

10:27 left, second quarter, Cowboys Stadium in Lake Charles. The trap game we had discussed here at The Wire was beginning to play out. McNeese State had just driven the ball 87 yards in 12 plays through the teeth of the Blue Gang defense to take a 15-7 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, no one on the Lion return team seemed to want to field the ball, and it was seemingly bouncing free at the Lion 6-yard line, where it appeared to be recovered by the Cowboys, who almost certainly would’ve gotten at least three points and take a two-score lead over the Lions, who were seemingly sleep walking through the game so far.

The Lions though were about to catch a huge break, and the wakeup call was about to arrive. During the following replay review(thank goodness for regular season replay in Division 1), Head Coach David Bailiff gathered the Lions around him while waiting on the official announcement, and to take a little editorial license here, let us say he “vented” at his team. Two things then happened: 1. The Lions were awarded the ball back. 2. They woke up. Good heavens, did they ever wake up. The offense perked up and became much more aggressive and efficient, and the Blue Gang defense slammed the door shut. What could have been a 21-7 deficit on the road before the half instead turned into a 40-15 rout of an otherwise decent McNeese State team.

The Lions now return home to Commerce for a Homecoming matchup with Houston Christian University that finds them, as legendary baseball announcer Red Barber once said, “sitting in the catbird’s seat.”

With that said, let’s take a look at our neighbors from down I 45 in Houston.

OVERVIEW: The Huskies are coached by Vic Shealy, who is 21-72 in his 10th year. He has been the Huskies coach since the program’s inception and is slowly building a program in a crowded D1 environment in the Houston area. Shealy won an NAIA Championship in 1998 as a head coach at Azuza Pacific, and in a bit of irony, his father, Dal Shealy, was defensive coordinator at Carson-Newman University in 1972, who the Lions defeated to win Ernest Hawkins’s only national title. Shealy’s best season was in 2019 with a 5-7 record, but in an abbreviated 2020 season due to COVID, the Huskies went out to Lubbock and gave Texas Tech everything they wanted before coming up short in a 35-33 loss.

BY THE NUMBERS:

Lion Offense:

Points: 38.0 ppg

Rush: 153.7 ypg

Passing: 258.5 ypg

Total: 412.2 ypg

Turnovers: 11

Huskies Defense:

Points: 29.8 ppg

Rush: 152.8 ypg

Pass: 302.5 ypg

Total 455.3 ypg

Turnovers: 14

One of the keys to the game lies right here in the turnover battle. The Huskies defense will give up some yards, especially through the air, but like to turn their opponents over. If the Lion offense is able to minimize turnovers, they have a chance to do some real damage.

UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE:

Lion Offensive Line: 6’3″ 293 lbs.

Huskies Front 6: 6’1″ 246 lbs.

The Huskies are led in tackles by sophomore linebacker Rodney Dansby (6’0″ 225 lbs.), who has an eye popping 68 tackles (23 solo) for the year. He is closely followed by fellow linebacker, senior Brennan Young (6’0″ 220 lbs.), who has 59 tackles (31 solo). Junior defensive lineman Jalyx Hunt (6’3″ 240 lbs,) has 59 tackles (31 solo), and 5 quarterback sacks so far in the 2022 season

The young Lion offensive line, anchored by seniors Rehoboth Chibesa (6’3″ 309 lbs.), and Solomon Ndukwe (6’3″ 318 lbs.) just keep getting better and better. They only gave up one sack this past week, despite constant pressure from McNeese, and the Lions rushed for 192 yards.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE:

Lion Movers and Shakers: 5’11” 194 lbs.

Huskies Back Line: 5’11” 177 lbs.

Sophomore wide receiver Andrew Armstrong continues his rampage through the 2022 season. Last week, Armstong had 9 catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns. The 6’6″ 189-pound receiver now has 37 catches for 718 yards, 11 touchdowns, and a long of 96 yards. Fellow sophomore receiver Jaden Proctor (5’8″ 155 lbs.) has 22 catches for 220 yards, 7 touchdowns, and a long of 27 yards. Not to be outdone, senior B.J. Busbee has 12 receptions for 141 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and a long of 27 yards.

Sophomore Eric Rodriguez continued his stellar play last week and leads the Lions in both rushing and passing for the 2022 season, with 234 yards in 41 attempts, with a long of 27 yards. Rodriguez is 76-111 for an average of 270 yards per game, 14 touchdowns, a long of 96 yards, and three interceptions.

The Lion rushing attack began to pick things up last week, and it sees that senior speedster J.T. Smith (6’0″ 178 lbs.) has 154 yards in 14 attempts, two touchdowns, and a long of 55 yards. Freshman Reggie Branch (5’11” 195 lbs.) tallies 146 yards in 10 carries, also with 2 touchdowns, and a long of 33 yards. Junior Spencer Long, who seems to be everywhere for the Lions, has 141 yards on 24 carries, 3 touchdowns, and a long of 69 yards.

The Huskies back line is a good blend of youth and experience, led by junior Jordan Oliver (5’11” 170 lbs.), and senior Coi Miller (6’0″ 180 lbs.). They seemingly have developed a bit slower than the secondary of the Lions if you just look at the stat sheet, but this is a group not to be overlooked.

VERY SPECIAL, INDEED:

The Lion special teams just continue to develop and get better. Other than an initial confusion on a trick extra point formation which cost them two early points, and a bad snap that saw an Emmanuel Adagbon miss on an extra point, Coach Jack Welch’s group was just outstanding.

Sophomore Mitchell McGarry had his best game of the season, averaging 42 yards on 3 punts, including a 59 yarder. Junior Emmanuel Adagbon had a 42-yard field goal, his longest of the year, that came just before halftime, and gave the Lions a lead they would not yield again. Freshman transfer Aiden Martin continues to boom his kickoffs through the end zone on a regular basis. He just doesn’t allow opposing special teams a chance at a return.

Junior Brendan Walker (5’9″ 180 lbs.) has 5 punt returns for the Huskies, with the longest being 4 yards. Sophomore R.J. Smith (6’0″ 175 lbs.) has 5 kickoff returns for a 22.6-yard average, with a long of 36 yards.

THE LIONS WIN THIS MATCHUP IF: Same song, third verse: The offensive line has to protect Rodriguez and allow him to work his magic. If they are successful, the big play opportunities will be there against a Huskies defense that has been shaky this season. The turnover bug has bitten the Lions the past two weeks according to David Bailiff, and that must be remedied. A fumble and short field allowed an early McNeese score. Andrew Armstong, despite drawing double coverage almost every down, continues to make opposing defensive coordinators heads spin, and it will be key for Billy Riebock’s offense to find ways to get him the ball. The running back by committee continues to pay dividends, not allowing defenses to key on any one player.

The Lions come into this Homecoming game on a roll, and with four of their final five games at home, have a chance to really make a name for themselves in the Southland.

Buckle up, Lion fans, we’re just getting to the good part.

See You at The Hawk.

Roar Back Here.....

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