A new coach is hoping to signal a new era “brick by brick,” as the team’s new mantra goes, and you don’t that far back in history to find success in Cape Girardeau. The Redhawks have had three-straight three-win seasons, but in 2010, the Redhawks won the conference, and in doing so a birth to the FCS championships. Is it time for SEMO to return to the top?
The big question: how quickly can Tom Matukewicz turn around the Redhawks?
In some ways, Matukewicz is a risky hire. He’s only been a coordinator for two years at Toledo, and other than being the interim head coach at Northern Illinois for a bowl game, has only been a position coach throughout his career. That doesn’t mean he won’t do well at Southeast Missouri, but there’s not a lot to lean on to say he will, either.
The one large positive is that he spent 10 years under Jerry Kill. Why is this important? First, I can only imagine how invaluable learning from Kill could be. Second, you don’t get the feeling he’s a coach looking for the next big thing. (*cough* Dino Babers *cough*) If he has success in Cape, he could still stick around for a few years.
Ultimately, we’ll judge him on the field. We’ve seen quick turnarounds before, and recently, but I’m not certain if Matukewicz has the talent at the skill positions to mirror such a turnaround.
Here are three other burning questions entering the 2014 season:
1. Is Central Michigan quarterback transfer Alex Niznak the man going forward?
After throwing for 108 yards and rushing for two touchdowns in the team’s White-Red game, it appeared that Kyle Snyder would win out the starting quarterback role after splitting much of the time with Scott Latrhop a season ago. Then, just four days later, the school announced they had just picked up a FBS quarterback transfer, in Central Michigan’s Alex Niznak.
Niznak played in just a few games last season at CMU, most notably throwing for 131 years as a backup in a rout by Michigan. Niznak started one game, but was pulled after a poor performance in the pouring rain. And…that was about it.
Of course, Snyder was also an FBS transfer when he joined the Redhawks, coming from Ohio.
While there is a new coach, which undeniably makes this virtually impossible to judge, Snyder in live games last year hit just 47% of his passes. Even with that number rising, (it has to, right?) will it be enough to hold off Niznak for the starting role?
2. Is DeMichael Jackson a league-leading rusher?
For a team that provided no reason not to keep eight men in the box last season, sophomore DeMichael Jackson had a solid year. Jackson finished just shy of 1,000 yards rushing, and had the second highest yards-per-rush average among the league’s top rushers last season. He’ll definitely have some competition: last year’s league leader Shepard Little returns, as does JSU’s DaMarcus James coming off a near 1,500 yard year.
There’s two things the Redhawks can do to help propel Jackson to elite status: first, develop a deep threat. Going back to the first point, I’m less than certain Snyder is the answer there, so it will likely fall on Niznak to do so. Second, get him some more touches. Jackson had just 170 rushing attempts last year; Little had 216, James 290.
They also need to be able to use him out of the backfield. Last year, he had just four receptions, needed instead to stay home and block. Touches don’t have to be just handoffs. When you have a guy that can be a dynamic player like Jackson has shown, you need to use him.
3. Can SEMO’s defense stop, well, anyone?
Last season, Jackson averaged 5.7 yards per rushing attempt, a great number. SEMO’s defense, on average, allowed 5.5 yards per rush. That’s not a great number. At all.
The Redhawks gave up more rushing yards than any team in the OVC last year, (although it should be noted, Austin Peay’s average per attempt was slightly worse) giving up 40 touchdowns on the ground alone. The Redhawks only scored 37 touchdowns all season.
But we shouldn’t just ignore the air game. SEMO’s passing defense statistically looks better, but when you break it down to average per passing play, the Redhawks finished last, even behind Austin Peay.
For the Redhawks to take a step in the right direction, the defense must get better. That’s where Matukewicz comes in: as a former defensive coordinator at Toledo, Coach Tuke will have the tall task of turning around the pourous D.