Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eastern New Mexico 2017 Outlook

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2016 Recap
ENMU got off to a rough start, dropping their season opener at Southwest Baptist and the week 3 matchup with Texas A&M Commerce.  They won their next three, before a five turnover loss to Tarleton in week 7.  Over the final four weeks, ENMU ran all over Bacone and OPSU and turned the tables on MSU, with some last minute magic of their own, upsetting the Mustangs 30-28.  Their 6-4 record against D2 schools earned an invite to the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl, where they dropped a 45-12 decision to Fort Hays State.

The offense scored 31.8 per week.  As expected, the running game led the way with 344.6 yards per game, and 5.7 per carry.  The passing game chipped in 128.8 yards weekly, but an impressive 160.5 QB efficiency rating.  They didn't throw much,  but when they did it was for a big gain - 19.3 yards per catch.  For comparison, TAMC (13.6), MSU (13.5), TSU (13.5) and TAMK (13.3) were the only other LSC teams to average more than 13.  Once again Kamal Cass was the leading rusher with 1,191 yards and 14 TDs.  QB Wyatt Strand started 11 games, rushing for 702 yards and 10 TDs, and throwing for 1,305 yards and 11 TDs, with a QB rating of 170.4 (which would have led the LSC if he had enough attempts).  Six other backs had more than 100 yards rushing.  Aaron Johnson was top target at receiver, with 43 of the teams 80 receptions, 848 of the 1,546 receiving yards and 5 TDs.  Post season honors went to Cass (1st LSC),  Johnson (2nd), and linemen Isaiah Talbert (2nd), Josh Bongiovanni (HM), Jordan Wade (HM) and Strand (LSC Freshman of the Year)

The defense was third in the LSC in yards allowed (342.4) and fourth in scoring (25.9).  They were particularly stingy against the run, giving up just 105.3 yards per game and 3.5 per carry.  The pass defense was middle of the pack, both in yards allowed (237.2) and QB rating (134.8).  They did allow an average of 42 points in their five losses however.  Individually, LB Brad Hardin (1st LSC), S Todd Countee (1st), Samula Tupou (2nd), Desmond Blue (2nd), DT Dakota Montoya (HM) and DT Keandre Hall (HM) were recognized by the LSC.

Josh Lynn has moved on to Nebraska Kearney and Kelley Lee takes over the head coaching position.

2017 Outlook - Offense
No mystery here, ENMU will field a strong run game.  Seven of the top ground gainers are back, including Cass and Strand.  And don't sleep on the other five - they picked up 1,574 yards, 9 TDs and averaged over 7 yards per carry!  Up front Talbert and Bongiovanni are back as is starter Lane Cummings.  The big question is at WR.  And while they don't throw it much, they need someone to make defenses pay.  Kai Roberts and Russell Montoya are the "experienced" returnees, each had two receptions, combining for 58 yards and zero TDs.

****** Record Watch ****** Kamal Cass is seeking his third 1,000 season and is 1,349 yards behind Tom Manley for the ENMU top spot.

2017 Outlook - Defense
Dakota Montoya and Keandre Hall anchor the defensive line.  The duo combined for 38 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, and 6 QBH.  Not a lot of other returnees though.  At linebacker, Brad Hardin and Desmond Blue were the leading tacklers, combining for 144, with 22 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 11 QBH, 3 interceptions and 8 passes broken up.  Also back are part time starters Cory Harris, Neami Tuifua, Clarence Cowart, and Michael Dunlap, as well as several reserves with experience.

The secondary has Todd Countee, fellow starters Quavshaun Branch and De'Aundre Sanders and reserves Gary Thibeaux-Moore and Charles Countee leading the way.  They were busy with 165 tackles, 8 interceptions and 20 passes broken up.

It looks like an improved defense with the quality and quantity of returning players.

2017 Outlook - Special Teams
Bailey Hale did double duty last year as a redshirt freshman.  The ACU transfer was 11-16 on FGs, with a long of 47, 37-42 on PATs, averaged 36.2 yards on punts and 60.8 on kickoffs with 23 touchbacks.  Lots of kick returning experience 7 players back that had at least 2 returns.  Backup QB Leondre Williams had the most returns (8 for 132 yards), while running back D'Maujeric Tucker averaged 25 yards on 5 returns.  Not much back for punt returns, Quavshaun Branch had 3 returns for 21 yards.

2017 Outlook - Non-Conference Schedule
A season-opening rematch, which Southwest Baptist won 49-35.  ENMU rushed for 444 yards, but turned the ball over 4 times (two inside the ENMU 15 which led to 14 SBU points, and one inside the SBU 30 which killed a promising ENMU drive) and allowed 550 yards defensively.  SBU did gone to make the NCAA playoffs, dropping a 63-35 decisioin to Colorado School of Mines.  QB T.J. Edwards returns to lead a potent offense (42.1 points, 504 yards per game).  Edwards threw for 3,242 yards and 34 TDs (7 Ints) and rushed for 685 yards and 10 more TDs.  His top targets are back - Kendrick Payne and Cassian Foreman combined for 126 receptions, 1,947 yards and 20 TDs.  One concern for SBU - all of the running backs listed on the roster are freshmen or sophomores with no carries last year.  The defense was a bit leaky, allowing 413 yards and 29 points per game.  Just 3 of the top 11 tacklers return.  This should be fun shootout to open the season with.  ***  This is prior to D2Football or AFCA polls, but Street and Smith has SBU at #7 coming into the season ***

West Liberty was 4-7 last year, with 5 of the losses coming by 7 points or less.  The offense was balanced, rushing for 145 ypg and throwing for 231, leading to 26.2 points weekly.  The defense gave up 25.5 points, 145 yards rushing and 232 passing.  That's about as close as you can get to parity in your offense and defense (similar to WTAM).  They'll have to replace Dakota Conwell.  The Arizona-transfer led the Hilltoppers in passing and rushing.  His top two receivers (who accounted for 60% of the receiving yards and 21 of the 26 TD receptions) are gone, but WLU does return three of their top four running backs.  The defense will have to replace 7 of the top 11 of the leaders in tackles.  

Best Case Scenario
8-2, The defense will need to play well every week and not give up 40+ to the top teams, and they will need to find someone at WR to keep defenses honest.  If they do, another postseason appearance is within their grasp.

Worst Case Scenario
4-6, Can ENMU muster up enough of a passing game to keep teams from loading up for the run?  The defense was exposed in several games last year, and while it is experienced this fall, several LSC teams look to have upgraded.  Also, there's no Bacone or OPSU on the schedule this year.  This could be a rebuilding year for the Greyhounds.

5-5 , Once again we are probably underestimating ENMU.  Under Josh Lynn, the Greyhounds were consistently underrated in preseason polls, topping the prognosticators in three of the past four seasons, and that certainly includes us.  This year's fourth place selection is second highest they were picked during that time.  That being said, the Greyhounds under new leadership and will have to prove the critics wrong all over again.

Lee is the new head coach, but he's been the offensive coordinator for the past five seasons. So don't expect much change in what ENMU tries to do.  There have been a few in-program promotions in the LSC in the past few years.  It didn't work out at all for Texas A&M-Kingsville, Tarleton sunk into the bottom half of the LSC and West Texas A&M slid from a consistent playoff team to mediocrity.  That's not to say we expect the same result here, but having a familiar person take over doesn't not ensure success.

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