Art Lawler Staff Writer email@example.com
The East Central Tigers have lost three straight heading into Saturday's homecoming GAC contest with Southern Nazarene.
Needless to say, Tim McCarty's East Central University team needs a "W."
You know what that means. It's healing time for the Tigers, and a winless Southern Nazarene squad coming into Norris Field would seem like an effective antibiotic to what ails ECU at this point in the season.
Poor tackling and poor linebacking play did away with any chance the Tigers might have had of springing an upset last week against powerful (ranked No. 8) Henderson State in Arkadelphia.
The untimely loss of speedy wide receiver George Robbins with a season-ending broken leg, was a huge blow to the Tigers offense, as well.
The Reddies, behind quarterback Kevin Rodgers, chopped the Tiger defense into small pieces in a 63-31 beatdown.
As bad as the final score was, the Tigers had their moments, and at times, appeared to be getting back in the game. Problem was, Rogers completed 42 of his 50 passes, mostly short, underneath the coverage, passes, that frustrated the ECU linebackers all day.
“We stalled out at critical times in the game,” coach Tim McCarty said.
The Henderson receivers took the short passes and turned too many of them into long gains. With Rodgers throwing for just under 600 yards (595), that kept the Tiger defense on the field way too long, which exposed its inexperienced linebackers.
The main contributor to their third loss, though, appeared to be a talented team in a talented program, playing on a slick field only the home team can seem to master, adding to its undefeated record.
The Reddies haven't lost a football game since the 2011 season.
To add to the woes of ECU, Robbins went down with a season-ending broken leg while J.J. Snell was running for a 59 -yard touchdown with a Spencer Bond short pass.
McCarty said David Moore filled in well and even snared a pass for a 59-yard touchdown run.
Southern Nazarene, McCarty said, is an improved team over a year ago. You can't tell that from its 0-4 start, but the ECU coach says — perhaps diplomatically — “They'll beat somebody, if not this year, then certainly next year.”
If that sounded like a disguised prediction, McCarty insists it's not. "We take it one game at a time," he said.
At least this week, the Tigers will have a friendly homecoming crowd for their 4 p.m. kickoff.
McCarty, launching into his weekly metaphorical dialogue, compared the Tigers' shortcomings last Saturday to “a rolling blackout” with some areas of light which could be seen from a distance — but mostly, there were the blackouts.
He also called these errors mental lapses that had a tendency to spread over certain areas of the team.
The fix, he said, has to be more focus from his players. McCarty planned to focus on that this week.
The “light” he hopes will be restored to full capacity against Southern Nazarene.
The team from Bethany can be expected to spread the field with its offense with four receivers going out on almost every play.
Designed to be a high-scoring, ball control offense, the Crimson Storm are averaging just 15.5 points per game while allowing 60.8.
Opponents are piling up 590 total yards against the Storm defense, while the offense is being limited to 290 yards a game.
Southern Nazarene is led offensively by former Konawa High School star, Dylan Terry, who has thrown for 577 yards this season.
SNU gets 205 yards a game passing, but Terry has been sacked 14 times for for 67 yards in losses and has thrown five interceptions.
The Crimson Storm's leading rusher is Chris Hunter with 90 carries for 339 yards after four games.
Defensively, Michael Hicks is the team's leading tackler with 34, 19 of those unassisted with 15 assists.
Linebackers have to alter receivers routes as they come through for a team to slow down its opponents passing game, but that was something the Tigers did a poor job of against Henderson, according to their coach.
That leaves the tackling. Ironically, the special teams tackling that was so bad in the season opener with Arkansas Monticello, has improved in recent games.
Penalties, for the first time, were below 100 yards and in fact the Tigers were whistled just five times for 39 yards yards last week, another huge improvements
Now it's the linebackers that need tinkering with, and the secondary, still talented, must do a better job of tackling. A group of redshirts was in over its head against Rodgers, who did in the Tigers for the third straight year.
McCarty is elated with his offensive line, a line that hasn't had a holding call penalty in the last three games.
Still, players are missing too many details, and it's keeping the Tigers from reaching their potential, at least up to now, their coach says.
Snell had six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, plus 15 yards rushing, even though the Tigers were forced to the air most of the day after falling way behind in a 28-point second quarter explosion by the hosts.
Against one of the best Division II teams in America, ECU quarterback Spencer Bond hit 26 or 48 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns with one pick. Tiger receivers got high marks from McCarty in this one.
The Tigers may have had even more opportunities had Qumain Black, arguably the best athlete on this team, not been sidelined with a high ankle sprain. He's questionable again Saturday.
James West, a true freshman, filled in and McCarty said he did a good job.
Another "fix" that should pay dividends in future weeks is that of the defensive line, which got four turnovers in the season opener, and after getting none in the second and third game, got four more against Henderson.
Defense, nonetheless, has been the weak link up to now, as should have been expected with former stars Jason Catchings, Norris Wrenn and Armonty Bryant all NFL type players, gone from this years team.
Seven redshirts are on the starting defense instead this season.
The Tigers, who normally run in the high 60s to 70 plays a game, got 82 in Henderson loss.