Coming off a 2-9 campaign just a season ago, Austin Peay seems to be in for yet another rebuilding year. With a brutal schedule, you could expect things to be worse than last year for the Governors.
But first year head coach Kirby Cannon has dealt with this before, taking over programs and turning it around in a few years. Austin Peay will be a difficult one to transform in the up tempo, pass-happy OVC. Cannon knows he is in for a long season, “When they brought me in, they told me I was needed.”
Yes you are coach, and with that lets kickoff our 2013 preview with Austin Peay.
1) Who is the quarterback this season?
At the end of spring practices, we had no idea who was would be dropping back for the team that gave up that least amount of sacks last season. Emerging just barely due to injury was redshirt sophomore Jacob Sexton, who put up three touchdowns in the Governors spring game. With the incoming transfer of junior Andrew Spivey, my bet would Spivey if he can pick up the new offense quickly and pass Sexton before week one.
2) Are special teams the focus?
“Everyone works hard on offense, everyone works hard on defense, not everyone works hard on special teams,” Cannon told us at OVC Media Day.
I commend Cannon for this approach, and he has a point. The offense could barely score last season and with better field position you have a way better chance to come away with points.
“Offenses score a bunch when you get inside the ten,” Cannon says. So how does he make it happen? He says he is willing to take a player off their regular assignment so they are fully gassed for a special teams play.
Look at their opening month of the season and tell me they won’t be returning numerous kickoffs. Emphasizing special teams is a good start.
3) Is it a rebuilding year again for the Govs?
I wouldn’t call it rebuilding, more remolding the team. When you get a brand new head coach, especially when he is hired as late as Cannon, then you have to fit square pegs into round holes. The addition of Spivey is a nice addition for the Governors, who also get a few new running backs.
“We open against the University of Tennessee and its a great challenge we hope to be as good as we can be very early in the season,” Cannon said at media day. The goal, to hang around that first game for a chance to win, is a lofty one.
The Govs best football is going to have to be played day one taking on in-state SEC foes Tennessee and Vanderbilt, but these games will show what Cannon has been able to get into the team in his small time there.
This schedule screams the most difficult in the programs history: five straight on the road to begin the season, including a trip to Richmond where the Govs haven’t won since 1977. On the OVC side of it the schedule doesn’t ease for a team that has a 34% win percentage in conference history. November will feel like early Christmas for Govs once it arrives as the month bares games they Govs could realistically win. Hosting SEMO could be their best chance to pick up a win and avoid seeing the goose egg in the win column but if not finishing at Tennessee Tech is a toss up and could be another end of the year, lets win a conference game just like last season.
“Where we are right now and where we hope to be are in a building stage.” Cannon says. So what are hoping to build? The same offense that led to something big in the NFL this past season, the pistol. This system is difficult as you need time to perfect it (look at Nevada when they change a quarterback) but it allows the QB the best opportunity to make the call at the line of scrimmage and perform. It obviously wouldn’t hurt for the offense that finished last in scoring, touchdowns and total offense to try new things.
Whoever is the QB will have to Jake Ryan who best his previous slots in the Govenors record book with the third-most passing yards (2104) and second most passing touchdowns (18) just a year ago. With Cannon’s eye for a more vertical game these numbers could be the low end for years to come.
While the quarterback battle is anyone’s at the moment, my pick as stated above is Spivey. Last season he threw over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns, which would set a new school record for both categories. This is a new year and you can’t expect numbers like that to be duplicated but it just shows you what the junior can do in a passing offense, one that Cannon hopes to build.
Fighting for the job is Sexton who did appear in six games last season and threw an interception. In his high school day’s Sexton could toss the pigskin around too, totally close to 4,700 yards in his career. The edge for Sexton is his mobility that he showed in high school, rushing for over a thousand years and last season Spivey fumbled 8 times, losing 5.
Whoever wins the QB battle will be handing off to multiple running backs this season. Terrence Oliver and Reco Williams are back this season with a total of 842 yards and 5 touchdowns between the duo. With the schedule heavily loaded, you have to expect numerous chances early for the ground game to rack up some yards.
The Governors hope to become a passing team. ““There are stages and right now we are in the fundamental stage before we become that passing offense I want us to be,” Clark told us. Bringing back 53% of their receptions from last year’s team, they’ll be looking for big numbers from Darryl Clack, who is expected to take a big step forward this season having to replace the graduated Devin Stark who accounted for 10 of the 18 passing touchdowns last season. Keep an eye on sophomore Mikhail Creech who caught two touchdowns in the spring game, same number he did all last season. He is explosive and could be a gamechanger with just one catch.
The line is anchored by Preseason All-OVC tackle Ben Stansfield returns three starters. Protection is something every coach strives for, and its been a calling card for the Govs the past few years ranking in the Top 15 in the FCS for fewest sacks allowed. With the foundation of Stansfield, Chris Hartmen, Gavin Willisson you have to expect the norm for the Govs in the trenches.
Thanks in part to tempo, Austin Peay finished sixth in the OVC last season in total defense. But the Govs allowed almost 7 yards per play, easily the worst in the conference. With the 4-2-5, the Govs will look to shut down the league aerial attack.
Overall, the Govs issues are mainly on the other side of the ball but with the schedule above, the numbers won’t be so nice the opening month. Leading tacker Craig Salley is back for the Govs and you can project more tackles for him. A major setback for the team occurred this summer with leading sack man Earnest Smith tearing his Achilles ending his season.
In the trench, all eyes go to senior defensive tackle Iosua Siliva, who had 28 tackles with 5.5 tackles for losses. He will be called upon to replace the missing production of Smith and will have the chance to a key pass rusher in the defense.
Behind the trench the linebackers and secondary return numerous pieces with linebackers Salley, Steven Rich, Josh Carroll, and safety Jonathan Shuler. While that is alot of tackles returning actually their top 11 when you stat it out, this defense returns the majority of their takeaways as well. With 17 takeaways as a team last season, tied for 5th in the conference, they will need to increase these in order to take the next step. Don’t look at the overall giveaway and takeaway, this schedule will skew it, just play defense and give the offense the best chance to score.
This defense, I believe, will be much better than last year’s team, regardless of what the scoreboard reads in September.
When the SID’s and head coaches all align and pick your team last, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see me put them in 9th also. The remolding of talent will take awhile, and you have to wonder how the players will deal with that brutal opening month of the season.
Losing is always tough, but with the potential for multiple blowouts you wonder how they will respond. In short this is a year for Kirby Cannon to get used to Clarksville, install the fundamentals, and build up for that new renovated stadium in 2014.
Written by Catlin Bogard
The general idea is that new head coach Kirby Cannon needs time: time to implement his offense, his defense, his over-the-top special teams plan. (Seriously, having players take off plays to be ready for 4th down? I’m not sold.) But the OVC, with so many teams losing their signal caller, could be ripe for the taking this year. Is Austin Peay in a position to make a run at the conference title? Absolutely not. But I wouldn’t be shocked if they pulled two or three conference wins either.
That being said, 0-8 wouldn’t exactly turn my world upside down. The offense needs some serious work, which will start with a new signal caller, a new primary wideout, and with a pair of seemingly solid if mostly untested running backs. The defense has more experience returning, and should be statistically better in conference play, although part of me wonders if this will have more to do with opposing offenses.
This is the first year of a process, and Kirby Cannon has been in similar situations before. Until he gives me a reason to think otherwise, I’ve got to think he’ll have a positive impact on Austin Peay before his time is done.