After back-to-back seasons with just three conference wins, momentum seems to be building behind the Redhawks, with SEMO finishing the highest in the OVC preseason poll since 2011. With Tom Matukewicz‘s rebuild entering it’s third year, are the Redhawks poised to break through? Three reasons we think they can.
1. A one-two punch on offense
While teams can run plays out of a dozen formations, out of a playbook of 100 plays, every offensive play generally boils down to two options: A quarterback throwing the football, or a running back trying to plow through the defense. Good teams often have one really good option at one of those two positions.
Great teams have great options at both.
SEMO falls into that second category.
Sophomore quarterback Dante Vandeven will be back under center this year after earning freshman of the year honors a season ago. After quickly working his way up from No. 3 on the depth chart, Vandeven scored 17 touchdowns for the Redhawks, including six on on the ground. He’s not the best deep threat in the league, but Vandeven’s speed and continued physical growth gives him a Eli Jenkins-like quality. As good as he will almost certainly be this season, thinking about how good he’ll be in another two years is quite scary.
If the Redhawks don’t want to pass, Vandeven can simply hand the ball off to first-team All-OVC running back Tremane McCollough, (pictured above) who is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season. Last year, McCollough proved to be a speedy back who has also come out of the backfield to catch passes, giving Vandeven more options under center. McCollough rarely fumbles, one reason the Redhawks led the league in turnover margin a year ago.
Making this offensive combination even more potent: SEMO return four offensive lineman, including preseason all-OVC selection Garret Baker.
2. Strength in the back seven of the defense
Of the nine teams in the OVC, only three schools had multiple selections to the preseason All-OVC defense: Jacksonville State had four selections, Eastern Illinois had a pair.
SEMO had three — two in the secondary, and one linebacker
Perhaps the strongest of the group is linebacker Roper Garrett, a guy that exemplifies the phrase ‘flying around the field’. Garrett crossed the 100-tackle barrier last year (after being just four short as a sophomore) on top of 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. No returning player had more tackles a season ago, and only one non-lineman got to the quarterback more a season ago that Garrett.
Only three schools had multiple selections to the preseason All-OVC defense…SEMO had three
Making opposing quarterbacks jobs a bit more difficult are a pair of selections at defensive back: Mike Ford and Eriq Moore. The two combined for nine picks last season, (out of 11 for the squad) as well as more than 100 tackles.
3. Experience, experience, experience
New coaches are often really expected to begin performing in their third season, after having two years to recruit talent and build. Some coaches look for quicker success, at the expense of depth later on.
Matukewicz didn’t take that route, and this is the year it really beings to pay off.
Not only does SEMO return top talent at skill positions — they return talent across the field. Eight offensive starters for last year are back, as are seven defensive starters. In all, Matukewicz has 25 seniors on this year’s roster, the most for the program since 2012.