Greetings, Lion fans, and this week’s edition of the Notebook needs no extra hype or buildup. If you’re a football fan, these are the kinds of games you live for. #1 against #1. The best offense in the Southland Conference vs. the best defense, the Blue Gang of Texas A&M-Commerce. This Saturday at 2pm in the friendly confines of The Hawk, Southland Conference supremacy will be established.
Head Coach David Bailiff and his Lions, are, as is said around a casino, “playing with house money.”. Simply put, if they win this game, and win out, they have a chance to be outright Southland Conference Champions in their first Division 1 season. If they lose yet win out the rest of the season. they have the opportunity to be Co-Champions.
What a time to be a Lion, and to be a Lion football fan. Let’s dive right in and take a look at our friends from San Antonio.
Points: 51.0 ppg
Rush: 171.6 ypg
Pass: 393.1 ypg
Total: 564.8 ypg
Blue Gang Defense:
Points: 15.5 ppg
Rush: 122.3 ypg
Pass: 134.7 ypg
Total: 257.0 ypg
Incarnate Word is a big play offense, averaging over 11 yards per pass attempt, while the Blue Gang is averaging just over 3.3 yards per attempt. The Lions will avoid the needless penalties that occurred last week and avoid giving up the big play. Quarterback Lindsey Scott, Jr. has thrown for an eye popping 37 touchdowns this season.
UP FRONT/TALE OT THE TAPE:
Cardinal Offensive Line: 6’4″ 310 lbs.
Blue Gang Front 6: 6’1″ 247 lbs.
The Cardinals have a massive front line led by a pair of seniors, Reid Francis (6’4″ 306 lbs.) and Stanley Mark (6’3″ 283 lbs.), along with graduate student Caleb Johnson (6’6″ 330 lbs.). Junior Nash Jones (6’5″ 312 lbs.) and sophomore Jimeto Obigbo (6’4″ 320 lbs.) round out a unit that is big and experienced.
So far this season, the heart of the Blue Gang defense has been the linebackers. Seniors Michael Noble (6’0″ 216 lbs.) and Dee Walker (6’2″ 224 lbs.) are among the leaders in tackles, Noble with 39 (21 solo), and a pick six last week. Walker has 39 tackles (14 solo).
They have been the beneficiaries of great defensive line play led by, among others, senior Celestin Haba (6’2″ 250 lbs.). along with sophomores Bryson Stewart (6’0″ 269 lbs.) and Clifford Funderburk (6’2″ 235 lbs.), and senior Justice Williams (6’4″ 231 lbs.) the Blue Gang has been able to generate a very good pass rush yet allow Noble and Walker to roam free to make plays. They face a tall order this week with a huge offensive line, and a very mobile quarterback.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE:
Cardinals Movers and Shakers: 5’11” 195 lbs.
Blue Gang Back Line: 5’10” 174 lbs.
The Cardinal offense is led by the dynamic Lindsey Scott, Jr. (5’11” 195 lbs., Gr.) who is 182-342 for 2,808 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He also has rushed for 218 yards on 50 carries, 5 touchdowns, and a long of 19 yards. His longest touchdown pass is 83 yards.
The Cardinal rushing attack is led by graduate student Marcus Cooper (5’8″ 184 lbs.), who has rushed for 548 yards on 93 carries, 4 touchdowns, and a long of 31 yards. Freshman Isaiah Robinson (6’2″ 200 lbs.) has 291 yards on 51 carries, a touchdown, and a long of 24 yards. Sophomore Jarrell Wiley (5’10” 182 lbs.) has 293 yards on 45 carries 5 touchdowns, and a long of 19 yards. Much like the Lions offense, Head Coach G.J. Kinne and his staff have had great success with the running back by committee approach.
The Cardinal receiving corps is led by senior Taylor Grimes (5’11” 188 lbs.) who had 46 catches for 752 yards, 11 touchdowns, and a long of 70 yards. Senior Darion Chapin (6’3″ 195 lbs.) has 38 catches for 753 yards 8 touchdowns, and a long of 79 yards. Graduate student Brandon Porter (5’10” 165 lbs.) has 25 catches for 366 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a long of 54 yards. Senior C. J. Hardy (5’11” 200 lbs.) has 343 yards on 19 catches, 5 touchdowns, and a long of 49 yards.
The Blue Gang back line is led by senior Darius Williams (5’10” 189 lbs.) who has 43 tackles (31 solo) and is a punishing hitter. Joined in the secondary by junior Dariyon Taylor (5’10 158 lbs.) sophomore Jordan Polk (5’11” 177 lbs.) sophomore Max Epps (5’11 189 lbs.), and sophomore Kendall Paul (5’8″ 157), this young group has done a great job in coverage all year and have been known to deliver some punishing hits on receivers. Senior D’Ante Smith (6’0″ 198 lbs.) has come on and done a very good job as well lately.
The challenge for the Lions this week will be to keep an explosive Cardinal passing attack under wraps, and yet somehow, not allow Lindsey Scott, Jr. to roam free in the Lions backfield. A challenge to be sure, but one they have faced, and passed, before.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED:
The Cardinal punter is graduate student Kevin Nguyen (5’10” 180 lbs.) who has 22 punts for a 41-yard average with a long oyards. Senior Carson Mohr is the kicker, and is 2 of 4 on field goals, with a long of 38 yards.
Senior B.J. Busbee leads the Lions in punt returns, with 13 returns for a 10.6-yard average, and a long of 27. Freshman defensive back Sean Krystoff-King has made the kick return position his own, with 6 returns for a 29.5yyard average, and a long of 59 yards.
THE LIONS WIN THIS MATCHUP IF:
Lion fans, this is the biggest game to grace Hawkins Field since the national semifinal against Harding in December of 2017. Five years later, a trip to Kansas City and a Division 2 National Championship game may not be on the line, but something very big is: an opportunity to go a long way towards winning an outright Southland Conference championship in their first season. What will it take? A full west side stands. Players feed off of crowd noise and support. The louder it is when the opponent is on offense can make a difference. No big plays allowed. The Cardinal offense feeds off of the big play, as is evidenced by the numbers listed above. Lastly, a combination of two tasks: no unforced penalties, and get off the field on third down. What David Bailiff described as “sloppy” play last week simply has to be eliminated, or it could be a very long day.
I’ve spoken of moments and opportunity. There is a line from the movie, Miracle, given by Kurt Russell, who is playing Coach Herb Brooks, addressing his team in the locker room before the game against the Soviet Union:
“Great moments are born of great opportunity.”
And that’s what the Lions have in front of them. A great opportunity.
See You at The Hawk.