Arkadelphia, AR —
Coach Tim McCarty has a paper Tiger on his hands at ECU as his team heads back into Arkansas for Saturday's 3 p.m. Great American Conference contest against Henderson State.
On paper his Tigers look awesome. They suit out with style. Stand nicely for the national anthem.
On the field, they can be had.
And Henderson State — this week's road opponent for the Tigers — is in its third-straight season of dominating the three-year-old GAC.
They are not the least bit sympathetic with the paper Tigers inability to remember snap counts or how to hold onto the football.
The Reddies’ three victories so far are by scores of 80-7, 75-10 and a relative squeaker in a 44-35 win last weekend over Southeastern in Durant.
McCarty's job, along with his staff, is to turn these paper Tigers into real-life menacing creatures with hostile dispositions and bad breath.
In a day or two.
After a season-opening victory over Arkansas Monticello, the team stepped up the competition and got knocked back to reality, losing to Southern Arkansas in Magnolia and Ouachita Baptist University in front of the home folks.
In a word, McCarty says, it's the team's toughness, or the lack of, that's killing this team in the early season.
“I don't mind saying that right now.We're just not tough enough,” he said in his office on the ECU campus Thursday morning.
Real teams, he notes, don't start seven drives in a single game with first down and-15. Mentally disciplined teams don't average more than 100 yards in penalties through each of the first three games.
“Do the kids feel bad when they jump offsides?” McCarty asks rhetorically. “Yeah, they do. They say, ‘I’m sorry’ or “My bad.” That does not solve the problem. Just don’t do it,” he said. “Everyone suffers.”
He says he can see an occasional face mask or a late hit flag when someone's hustling to make a play.
“Those guys are always playing aggressively. They don't apologize for their mistakes. They go out and do something about it.”
Sort of like Henderson State, which averages an evil 67 points a game, doesn't apologize for putting 80 points on the board against an inferior opponent.
“Some basketball teams don't average that many points,” McCarty said.
Nevertheless, he believes his team matches up quite well with Henderson State. “This is a great opportunity for our football team,” he says with a straight face.
On paper, the Tigers are bigger and just as fast as the Reddies. Who thought up that nickname, anyway?
Even though Henderson was undefeated last season and is again this season, McCarty believes they are beatable under the right circumstances.
Comparing scores is a dangerous exercise. At the same time, it's fun to do, and sometimes the comparative scores can give a hint of what is possible.
The Reddies scored late last week to pull out a game they had been in the process of blowing, to win by nine.
That same Southeastern team that pushed Henderson State to the limit, lost to Arkansas Monticello, the team the Tigers whipped up on the opening night of the season in Ada.
Somewhere in there is a victory for the Tigers. Finding it will be the challenge.
First, some of McCarty seniors will have to grow up, show some leadership and stop getting motion penalties three times in a single game, there coach says.
The youngsters tend to emulate that kind of stuff McCarty said, and that isn't a disease he wants to see spread.
“We had an evangelistic meeting about that,” McCarty said, failing to mask the understatement effort in that sentence.
“Did you convert him,” the coach was asked. “We sure did,” McCarty said.
At least, “We'll see Saturday,” he said.
The paper Tigers got four turnovers from their opponent in the season opener.
They've had none since. Granted, the opposition has improved, the coach said. “You've got to get on those fumbles.”
Here's some other tangibles for the paper Tigers to consider as they head out of town for a the showdown Saturday at Carpenter Heygood Stadium in Arkadelphia, Arkansas:
• The Reddies have a 16-game winning streak and have forgotten what it's like to lose. It hasn't happened since 2011.
• The Reddies are ranked No. 8 in the nation in the AFCA poll and No. 10 in the D2 football;
• The Reddies, behind the passing of quarterback Kevin Rodgers, are averaging 681 yards of total offense a game. That's the best in the entire NCAA among Division 2 teams.
• The Reddies, in earning that 67 point per game average, are finishing with 466.3 yards per game in passing. Surely there's a law against gobbling up that much air space in a 120-yard playing surface.
Rogers has served up 410.7 of those yards by completing 75 of his 120 passes with just two picks. He's not a scrambler. He plays out of the spread and, well, spreads the football to receivers who turn short passes into long gains.
That impressive secondary that began the season for ECU, gave up three touchdown passes last week. Rogers will give them another test Saturday to see if they're real, or paper.
He's already thrown for 12 touchdowns.
• The paper Tigers better get real if they want to slow down Darium Davis and Robert Jordan, the Reddies two talented wide receivers Davis already has 20 catches for 420 yards and three TDs in three games, and Jordan has 19 catches for 312 yards and three scores.
The Reddies defense is ranked No. 20 in the country, allowing 289.3 yards a game.
They've got an ill-tempered linebacker named Keaton Stigger who leads the team with 25 tackles. The Reddies give up 19.7 points per game.
The Reddies run a 4-3 defense with a 3-3- stack. That's a nose tackle between two defensive ends and two linebackers stacked behind the nose, ready to go in either direction.
There have been some positives for the Tigers, too. They actually lead the conference in red-zone scoring, going 7-for-7 through the first three games. That's six touchdowns and one field goal.
Quarterback Spencer Bond recovered from a rough outing the week before when he threw three interceptions to throw for 273 yards (21-of-33) for 270 yards against Ouachita Baptist.
McCarty is taking the blame for last week's fake punt which changed the momentum of the game, ultimately leading to the loss.
JoJo Snell is still averaging six yards a carry, and in fact, the Tigers got 6.6 yards per snap in losing to Ouachita.
McCarty's philosophical football thought for the day: “You don’t cure cancer over night. But this isn't cancer.”