Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011 Abilene Christian Preview

2010 Review
Abilene Christian cruised through the regular season undefeated, surviving tough battles at Washburn, Texas A&M-Kingsvile and West Texas A&M, and at home against Midwestern State.  The rest of the LSC did not put up much resistance, as ACU outscored them by an average of 49-13.  However the season came to a crashing halt in Round 2 of the NCAA playoffs, with Central Missouri shocking the Wildcats 55-41.

The offense was not only good, but consistent, scoring at least 31 points in every game.  ACU led the conference scoring 43.3 points per game and was second in total offense, racking up 473 yards.  Despite losing Reggie Brown before the season starte, ACU averaged 155 yards rushing (4th in the LSC).  But it was the passing game that was more impressive.  Sophomore Mitchell Gale went from a question mark entering the season to an All American caliber QB.  He threw for 3,595 yds with 38 TDs and just 3 INTs.  He had plenty of help - Edmond Gates and Raymond Radaway are on NFL rosters, and Kendrick Johnson was all LSC South as well.  All five offensive linemen received LSC honors with Royland Tubbs and Trevis Turner named to the first team.

The defense wasn't too shabby either, finishing second to Texas A&M-Kingsville in both scoring (21.5 pts) and total defense (324 yds per game).  Teams only rushed for 80 yds per games one of the top marks nationally.  Aston Whiteside continued to receive national accolades, as he racked up 7 sacks and 14.5 TFL despite being the focus of opposing coaching staffs.  All in all, five Wildcats (Whiteside, DT Marvin Jones, DE Fred Thompson, LB Courtney Lane, LB Kevin Washington) were named to the LSC South 1st team, while 3 (CB James Williams, DB Darrien Willams, and DT Donald Moore) were second team selections, and four (DB LB Suggs, DB Richard Havins, DE Bryson Lewis, LB Eric Edwards ) were honorable mention.

2011 Preview
No QB question this year, unless its whether or not Gale can become ACU's second Harlon Hill winner.  Due to the loss of such talented receivers and offensive linemen, his numbers might be down a little, but I wouldn't count on it.  Taylor Gabriel is the lone returning WR with much experience, but Darrell Cantu-Harkless moves to WR to help out, and Ben Gibbs is a scoring threat at TE.  With Reggie Brown back in the backfield, the RB corps is deep.  When healthy in 2009, he and Daryl Richardson combined for over 1,900 yds and 23 TDs rushing.  Add in Charcandrick West, who averaged 7.5 yds per carry as a freshman, and it would appear that the running game will take some of the pressure off of the passing game.  Up front, returning starters Matt Webber, Neal Tivis, and Josh Perez should be joined by Jerond Harrell, a senior transfer from Lambuth and sophomore Blake Spears.  Not a great deal of experience behind them however.

On defense, Whiteside will be joined up front by Donald Moore, Ryan Smith, TR Varnado and newcomer Rob Boyd.  Like the offensive line, there is not much experienced depth here.  LB Suggs moves to LB from the secondary, and Derek Odelusi from defensive end, joining Nathan Baggs, Thor Woerner and Chris Jones, who all saw playing time as reserves last year.  Transfers Jesse Harper and Derek Drummond could fit into the mix as well.  The secondary does not have a lot of experienced players returning either.  Darrien Williams, Richard Havins, Nate Bailey, and Caleb Withrow are back, and ACU will wecome Alex Harbison back from injury as well.  JC transfer Mike Wallace had 3 Ints last year for the College of San Mateo.

Morgan Lineberry connected on 21-30 FGs and 48-53 PATs and will be joined by Spencer Covey who averaged almost 65 yards per kickoff.  Withrow, Cantu-Harkless and West can all handle kick return duties more than adequately, but Kendrick Johnson will need to be replaced on punt returns, possibly by Gabriel or Cantu-Harkless.

Out with the Old
FB - Emery Dudensing - 1st LSC South, 6 TD receptions
WR - Edmond Gates, Kendrick Johnson, Raymond Radaway - 137 receptions, 2,223 yds, 22 TDs, Gates and Radaway on NFL rosters
OL - Royland Tubbs, Trevis Turner - both 1st LSC South selections
DL - Marvin Jones, Fred Thompson (both 1st LSC South), Bryson Lews (HM), and Austin January - combined for 109 tackles, 27 TFL, 9.5 sacks
LB - Kevin Washington, Courtney Lane (both 1st LSC South), Eric Edwards, Casey Carr - combined for 192 tackles, 23.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks
CB - James Williams - 2nd LSC South, 41 tackles, 3 Ints
P - Mark Sprauge - 2nd LSC South, 40.4 avg

Welcome Back
QB - Mitchell Gale - 164.1 QB rating, 38 TDs, 3 Ints, 3,595 yds passing
RB - Daryl Richardson, Reggie Brown, Chancandrick West
WR - Darrell Cantu-Harkless, Taylor Gabriel - 48 catches for 554 yds combined
TE - Ben Gibbs - 20 receptions for 238 yds and 5 TDs
OL - Matt Webber, Neal Tivis, Josh Perez
DL - Aston Whiteside, Donald Moore, Ryan Smith - combined 71 tackles, 25.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks
LB - Derek Odelusi, L.B. Suggs - combined 60 tackles 2.5 TFL
DB - Darrien Williams, Richard Havins, Nate Bailey - combined for 103 tackles, 4 Ints, 5 passes broken up
K - Spencer Covey (64.7 KO avg), Morgan Lineberry (111 pts)

In with the New
WR - Jamaine Sherman
WR - Ronald Gaudin
TE - Jon Parker
OL - Jerod Harrell
DE - Rob Boyd
LB - Jesse Harper, Derek Drummond

All Conference Candidates
QB - Mitchell Gale (All American and Harlon Hill Candidate)
RB - Daryl Richardson
WR - Darrell Cantu-Harkless
TE - Ben Gibbs
OL - Matt Webber, Neal Tivis, Josh Perez
DL - Aston Whiteside (All American candidate), Donald Moore
LB - LB Suggs
DB - Darrien Williams, Richard Havins

Big Games
Game 2 - North Alabama  In recent years, ACU has scheduled a top-notch non-conference opponent to help them get ready for the long season.  #6 North Alabama can virtually field a former SEC team with the large number of transfers on the roster.
Game 9 - at Texas A&M-Kingsville  Depending on how some of the earlier season games work out, this could be for all of the LSC marbles, or a fight for a playoff spot.  Both teams come into the season with high expectations, but also with difficult schedules.  If last year's game is any indication, this will be a barn burner.
Best Case Scenario - 11-0  The Wildcats did it last year, despite coming into the season with an unproven QB and losing half of their RB tandem prior to the season opener.  If the offensive line can provide enough time for Gale and the receivers can catch the ball, the offense should click.  The defense lost a lot, but there are still plenty of good players returning.
Worst Case Scenario - 7-4  If the offense takes a step back and the defense takes a couple, the Wildcats could drop some of the close games they were able to pull out last year.  The LSC slate is as tough as ever, and North Alabama in game 2 makes it even tougher.

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