|R.J. Long averages 122.3 yards per game for
McMurry's Air Raid offense.
McMurry photo by Gerald Ewing
If you’ve been following the American Southwest Conference scoreboard this season you may have noticed a pattern.
Yes, Mary Hardin-Baylor is atop the conference standings as usual. And, of course Hardin-Simmons and Louisiana College are right there behind the Crusaders battling for second place. The programs at McMurry and Texas Lutheran show marked improvement under relatively new coaching staffs, while East Texas Baptist, Howard Payne and Sul Ross State struggle to find consistency. Perhaps the biggest surprise is to see last season’s co-champs, Mississippi College, at the bottom of the standings still searching for a ASC victory this late in the season.
But even more surprising than the fall of the Choctaws is the number of points being scored. There are currently three teams in the conference averaging more than 40 points per game. And none of them is named Mary Hardin-Baylor. (They rank a paltry fourth in the conference with 37.2 points per game.) Louisiana College is currently second in D-III in scoring (47.2 ppg), while Hardin-Simmons (44.1) and McMurry (43.7) are eighth and ninth respectively.
This quite a jump from last season when the conference leader in the category, Louisiana College (38.8 ppg), edged out UMHB (38.5) and Mississippi College (37.7) for the ASC scoring crown.
If you look at the total yardage gained, the ASC offenses look even more impressive. Six of the nine teams in the conference rank in the top 50 in D-III (out of 236.) The Louisiana Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in the nation (538 yards per game), while Hardin-Simmons is fifth (508 ypg.) McMurry (17th - 469), UMHB (25th - 441), Mississippi College (25th – 441) and Sul Ross State (49th – 405) are all averaging over 400 yards a game. Only three teams cracked the 400 per game mark last season.
Perhaps no weekend personified this scoring binge better than last Saturday. Hardin-Simmons scored 73 points and rolled up a conference record 759 yards in a win over Sul Ross State. Louisiana College and McMurry both topped the 60-point mark. For McMurry it was the second time this season that they had reached 60.
In all this season, ASC teams have topped the 50-point mark three times, 40-point mark 12 times and the 30-point mark 13 times. In all, they have scored 1832 points in 57 games, which average out to 32.1 points a game.
What accounts for this offensive explosion? I decided to ask three conference coaches with varying levels of time spent in the ASC: Pete Fredenburg of UMHB (13th year), Dennis Dunn of Louisiana College (fifth year) and McMurry’s Hal Mumme (second year in ASC).
The trio all agreed that main reason is that there is a wealth of talent at the skill positions in the conference this season.
“I think it’s more due to personnel,” Mumme said. “Good quarterbacks, good receivers and good running backs usually mean a lot of points.”
“There a lot of reasons to attribute it to,’ Fredenburg said. “First and foremost is that there’s really some skilled athletes that are playing receiver and quarterback. That challenges defenses. Guys that throw the ball as much as some of them do are going to have a chance to make some yards. And then you throw in the really quality athletes and you’ve got your hands full.”
Dunn feels that crop of veteran quarterbacks in the conference is especially good this season.
“You have three very, very good Division III quarterbacks,” Dunn said. “Our guy is a three-year starter and is very experienced. He’s got a very good supporting cast.
“I think you could say the same for Hardin-Simmons. They’ve got (Justin) Feaster back, a four-year starter with a great supporting cast. And then Jake Mullin at McMurry has experience with a great supporting cast. The style of offense (in the conference) lends itself to a lot of big plays.”
|Louisiana College quarterback Ben McLaughlin was
named to this week's D3football.com Team of the
Louisiana College athletics photo
Ben McLaughlin, Dunn’s signal-caller, currently leads D-III in passing yards per game with 396 yards per game. The senior has 27 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. McLaughlin became the conference’s all-time leading passer last week by passing for 491 yards and six touchdowns against Howard Payne, giving him a career total of 10,660.
Meanwhile, Mullin, a junior, is second in the country (383 yards per game) and 34 touchdown passes and just one interception. He also ranks eighth in passing efficiency, one spot behind the Cowboys' senior Feaster. The HSU quarterback has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, averaging 264 yards a game with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. His number would probably be even bigger but has been pulled out of a few blowout victories.
Mississippi College’s Tommy Reyer, a junior, and Sul Ross State’s Monty Morales, who hasn’t played since getting injured in the Lobos fourth game are also ranked high. Reyer is 26th at 252 yards a game, while Morales is 29th at 249.5.
Even the quarterbacks in the conference without gaudy passing numbers can hurt you in other ways. UMHB’s LiDarral Bailey and ETBU’s Sed Harris could both threaten the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season. And Texas Lutheran sophomore Mitchell Bunger has shown the ability to both run and throw it too.
All three mentors mentioned coaching as a factor too. Continuity and quality being the most important factors.
“I think it can be attributed to the consistency of staffs staying together and with the same offensive system,” Dunn said. “When I got her I was the fourth coach in four years.
“Now these kids are familiar with system. The players have been in the system for some time. We’re not still learning what to do, where at a point where we can take advantage of what the defense is giving.”
“Yea, I think there’s a lot to that,” Mumme agreed. “Coach Dunn has been there a while, I’ve been here a year. Of course, Coach Keeling has been there (HSU) forever. That’s probably the three scoring-est teams in the league. Sul Ross was scoring with everybody for a while but they got their quarterback hurt.”
“I really think the guys at Louisiana College and McMurry are really well-coached,” Fredenburg said. “They do a great job of running their offense and they do a nice job of getting the ball in their play-makers hands. Their quarterbacks do a great job of seeing it all. Hardin-Simmons is also prolific on offense.”
The variety of offensive systems can also made it tough on conference defensive coordinators according to the UMHB coach.
“Our league week in and week out pretty difficult to defend.” He said. “You have to be able to be pretty diverse in order to defend 40 throws a game and turn around and play a team like us that tries to run the ball at you.”
Still couldn’t this offensive be explained by bad defense? Four teams are giving up more than 30 points a game and five are allowing more than 400 yards per game.
“I hesitate to call it bad defense because defensive coordinators these days have a tough job,” Mumme said. “I wouldn’t want to be one,” he added wryly.
If Mumme has reason to doubt that it’s bad defense, he has the luxury, McMurry leads the conference allowing just 248 yards a contest.
Fredenburg, whose Crusader defenders have dominated ASC offenses for years, have allowed an uncharacteristic 377 yards game, though they have limited opponents to 63 rushing yards a game.
“I think our case it was a little bit of bad defense,” he said. “I am not taking anything away from (opponents). But we are just pretty young on defense and guys are just learning to play.
“You certainly know that people that spread the field and throw it a bunch are going to make some yards. It’s no different than when the run-and-shoot came in vogue. Offenses made some big numbers. It’s just kind of a cycle right now, everybody throwing it and spreading it out. Defense will ultimately catch up, but right now they are struggling some.”
Meanwhile, Dunn has had to deal with defensive issues of his own. The Wildcats have allowed 39 points and nearly 450 yards a game.
“It’s hard to say,” Dunn said the conference defensive woes. “The last couple of years we’ve played extremely good defense. This year we are young and inexperienced.
“I don’t know if that’s the case around the league. Mary Hardin-Baylor, and I think that Pete would tell you, they’re very good defensively, but they’re not where they been (in the past) in terms of linebacker and defensive back play. But they are still very good up front.”
But still the best way to win despite any statistical numbers is to make plays when you need them. And that has been the thing that has kept UMHB atop the ASC this season. Against McMurry, they came up with big special teams’ plays despite being slowed on offense and exploited in the secondary on defense. Against Hardin-Simmons, the much maligned defense forced four turnovers and gave their powerful offense extra chances. Then against Louisiana College, the Crusaders picked off a pass in the end zone with less than a minute to play to preserve a 42-38 victory.
So I get the feeling that a lot of coaches may be feeling the same as Dunn, whose 3-3 Wildcats have to look back on the season as one of missed opportunities. They lost late in the fourth quarter to Belhaven in their opener and in overtime to Huntingdon.
“We are really three possessions away from being 6-0,” Dunn said. “ It’s good and bad. It’s good in the fact that we’re gotten to the place where we are in the upper echelon of this conference in terms of competition, but it’s bad in that we could be sitting here controlling our own destiny with having to depend on some other things to happen.”
Game of the Week
DePauw (6-0, 4-0 SCAC) at Trinity (3-3, 1-2). DePauw can clinch a share of the SCAC title this weekend in San Antonio. That may be easier said than done for the Indiana Tigers, who have never won at E.M. Stevens Field. A victory should clinch them the conference’s automatic bid, since they have already beaten Centre and Millsaps. Meanwhile, the 3-3 Texas Tigers are fighting just to have a winning season. They haven’t had a losing year since the early 1990’s. They still have tough games left after this one with trips to Centre and Huntingdon before closing the season at home against Austin.
Millsaps (4-3, 3-1 SCAC) at Centre (4-2, 2-1). The winner of this game keeps hopes alive for the SCAC title but will need help to earn and NCAA bid (i.e. two DePauw losses.) Neither team is likely to earn a Pool C bid with nonconference losses.
Mary Hardin-Baylor (6-0, 4-0) at East Texas Baptist (3-4, 2-3). This may be the last time the Crusaders are seriously challenged before the playoffs come around. Their next three opponents have a combined record of 6-12. Tiger quarterback Sed Harris can cause defenses all sorts of problems.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org , Conrad on Post Patterns or on Facebook at Facebook.com/jasonbowen3 or Twitter @d3jason.