Waiting for the ECU defense to catch up with its explosive offense

East Central sophomore Broderic Odom, a sophomore from Ada, celebrates after a big play during action earlier this year. The Tigers host No. 5 Ouachita Baptist at 3 p.m. Saturday inside Koi Ishto Stadium.

This past week in the Great American Athletic Conference saw the East Central University football team run out of time against the Boll Weevils of the University of Arkansas-Monticello.

It seemed every time a team scored, the other answered with points of their own. The game ended with ECU trailing by three and the final score 49-46.

The Tigers scored first on a 420-yard Harper Simmons field goal. The Weevils answered with a touchdown. The Tigers scored to take a 10-7 lead. UAM scored as time ran out in the quarter to take a 14-10 lead.

In the second quarter, the teams were scoreless until UAM scored to take a 21-10 lead with 1:51 left. Following the kick-off, the Tigers needed only 6 plays to go 65 yards to score to go into half time trailing 21-17. Both teams scored once in the third quarter to leave ECU trailing 28-24.

In a wild fourth quarter, 43 points were scored as each team racked up three touchdowns. After their first score of the quarter, ECU used a pass for a successful two-point conversion to leave them trailing by 3. UAM scored for the final time with 5:12 left to take a 49-39 advantage and seemingly put the game out of reach.

However, never count this Tiger team out. They went 78 yards in 16 plays to score with 1:29 left. An onside kick was recovered by UAM.

The Tigers were down, but far from out. The Tigers needed a stop by the defense, and they got it. The Weevils went three and out and were forced to punt with 0:35 left.

Unfortunately, the punt was mishandled by the Tigers and recovered by UAM, which then ran out the last of the time off the clock.

ECU remains at or near the top of the conference in a number of offensive categories. Offensively, the Tigers are having a great year. At the pace they are going, the team and some individuals will most likely break into the all-time top 10 lists in several categories. We will look at that next week.

The defense is behind when compared to the offense. The defense, like the offense, is loaded with freshmen and sophomores. The defense, like the offense, is loaded with players who were outstanding high school players and will be outstanding college players.

So, why is the defense behind?

Forgive me, football scholars, for stating something you already know, but perhaps it will help some better understand the East Central University football team. It is not unusual for a team’s offense to be ahead of the defense.

This is even more true for a defense that starts 4 freshmen and 3 sophomores and returns only four players who even played (2 starters, 2 reserves) in the last game of 2018.

The reason is because an offensive player knows where he is supposed to go, and the one defending him does not. Obviously, this is a big advantage.

For a defensive player it is, of course, just the opposite. A defensive player is trying to cover players who know where they are going. A defensive player has to learn to keep up through all the trickery, fakes, moves and opposing players trying to block him.

A delay of even a second to react to a fake or move from an offensive player or to avoid or brush off a block often leads to a big play for the offense.

In high school, that slight delay was not a problem because athleticism could be used to recover. In college, all the players on the field are great athletes. It is much harder, if not impossible, to use athletic ability to recover.

The Tiger defense has given up 19 touchdowns this year. Six of those came on passes of 88, 80, 65 and 63 yards and runs of 75 and 68 yards. Opponents have also scored after being aided by passes of 44 and 47 yards and a run of 59 yards. Does this show the Tiger defense is loaded with bad players? Not at all.

What it shows is the Tiger defense will be just fine when they catch up to the offense, and that will take experience that is being gained on the field. This is not meant to be an excuse, but rather to state a fact behind ECU’s 1-4 record.

The late ECU Athletic Hall of Fame member Albert Bare used to tell us, as our coach back in junior high, that, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we would all have a merry Christmas.”

In the four games they have dropped, the Tigers lost by eight after giving up 14 points due to returns of a fumble and an interception; lost on a two-point conversion attempt; and lost two games by three points each. It is easy to see that with a couple of those “ifs and buts” coach Bare spoke about, the Tigers could easily be 5-0 right now and headed towards a very merry season.

The Tigers will get a chance to upset the nation’s fifth ranked team, the Ouachita Baptist Tigers at 3 p.m. Saturday at Norris Field. That GAC contest will match up the visitor’s stingy defense (14.6 points per game) against the high-scoring ECU offense (33.2 points per game).

In other GAC action last weekend, Oklahoma Baptist (3-2) beat Arkansas Tech (0-5) 43-31; Southeastern (1-4) lost to Ouachita Baptist 27-14 (5-0), Northwestern (2-2) lost to Henderson State (4-1) 47-7; Harding (4-1) downed Southern Nazarene (1-4) 31-1 and Southwestern (2-3) lost to Southern Arkansas (4-1) 42-20.

The win over ECU moved Arkansas-Monticello to 3-2. 

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