Our countdown previewing every team in Ohio Valley conference continues with my pick at No.8, SEMO.
On Friday, I nearly posted my number 8 team preview…and it wasn’t SEMO. But then on Friday, the Redhawks number one quarterback on their depth chart, Kyle Snyder, tore his ACL, an injury that will prevent him from returning this season.
Now with their top option at quarterback out, and the No. 2 position still up for grabs, the team with the OVC preseason defensive player of the year, and just one year removed from an OVC championship, will face an uphill battle just to remain in the conversation.
Before Snyder’s injury, the Redhawks were already facing a challenge on offense, as the only team in the OVC to not return their signal caller from the previous year. Snyder may have been the number one option at quarterback, but he wasn’t experienced in the Redhawks system. It’s a bad loss, but it’s mitigated somewhat by the unknown; namely, we don’t really know how he would have performed with this team, and in this system.
What we do know is that two freshman, Scott Lathrop and Blake Jackson are battling to replace him, and they less than 3 weeks of snaps with the first team to get acclimated with the offense. But that can’t even begin until head coach Tony Samuel picks a starter.
“”The next couple weeks will give us a better feel for what’s going on,” Samuel said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “”Scott and Blake both did some good things in our first scrimmage.”
Time, in my opinion, is the biggest issue the Redhawks have working against them right now. You want your starting quarterback to be able to work on timing with his receivers. You want your starting quarterback to be comfortable with the playbook.
You don’t want to be bouncing back and forth between two freshman.
But it’s not all bad news for the Redhawks offense. The quarterback issue is somewhat less of a concern because the Redhawks are returning an experienced rusher. Just not their most experienced rusher, graduated quarterback Matt Scheibile.
Levi Terrell returns this season after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 5 of the 2011 season, and has the potential to be very explosive. Before injury, he was averaging 6.6 yards a carry, but carried the ball fewer than 10 times a game. That limited data is all we have on Terrell in the OVC. Before joining the Redhawks as a junior, Terrell averaged 5.9 yards a carry at Division II Nebraska-Omaha.
Assuming he has returned from injury as explosive as before, the quarterback situation is going to present a challenge for Terrell. Unless SEMO can present one of their freshman as a true deep passing threat, one has to think a lot of teams will keep 7 or 8 men in the box on almost every play. Can Terrell still be effective against teams solely focused on stopping the run?
And even so, can Terrell and the Redhawks score TD’s? They led the league in rushing last year, but were last in passing and outscored by an average of two touchdowns a game.
It helps that he’ll be running behind senior Evan Conrad, who was named to multiple preseason All-America Teams.
“Offensive line is one of the most important positions to have experience at,” Conrad says.”Our goal is always to be No. 1 in the nation in rushing and I think we have some great players up front.”
SEMO’s top true receiver, Davis Spenser, as well as two backs, halfback D.J. Foster and fullback Ronald Coleman all return this year, and Terrell should provide some more help out of the backfield. There’s not a true down field threat, which is concerning, even given the quarterback conundrum.
The path to winning is clearly playing possession football. It’s not going to be flashy, but SEMO can control tempo in this offense. In this style of football, turnovers are more costly than ever, and the Redhawks aren’t well equipped to play from behind, but in college, you can succeed focusing on short, accurate passing and a strong running game.
But if this is truly the “Year of the Quarterback” in the OVC, SEMO could be left behind.
On one hand, you have the preseason OVC player of the year in linebacker, Blake Peiffer, and were the 2nd best team against the pass in the conference.
On the other, you return the 8th worst defense in the league, and the worst against the rush.
The result last season: the worst scoring defense in the league.
In football, you must stop the run. Period.
One of the reason stopping the run is so important is the Red Zone. SEMO’s opponents scored more red zone touchdowns than against any other team.
90% of the time a team reached the redzone against a Redhawks, they scored at least a field goal.
Some of this does fall on the secondary, that managed just 4 interceptions as a team last year, tied with Eastern Illinois for last. But most of this falls on the front 4, who allowed 5.4 yards per rush.
A lot of that responsibility will fall on senior Justin Love, a three-year starter nearing in on a school record for tackles for loss.
“This year is going to be big for our defensive line,” Love said. “We were inexperienced last season. We are working hard and improving each day.”
In all 8 players return to the defensive line this season, 5 of whom, including Love, started at least one game last year. This season, inexperience will not be an issue, barring any more injuries.
If things go badly this year, it’s going to be easy to point to the injury of Kyle Snyder, and say “that’s why.”
But this is a running team; this has always been a running team. A quarterback is always important, but it’s not what defines the Redhawks offense.
There’s still a lot of individual talent on both sides of the ball, the question is how will it come together. Do the pieces form a whole puzzle, or will the weaknesses leave glaring holes in the overall picture?
It’s hard to believe that this team is one year removed from a title. Just one. It just shows how quickly fortunes can change in college football.
Leaving You With A Quote
When asked what his team needed to do to challenge in the OVC Race (pre-Snyder injury):
“You have to start early when you get into conference play. You have to stay healthy.”