It was a case of two different games for SFU’s offence and defence.
On one hand, you have the defence. It was probably one of the best performances the SFU football team played on the defensive side of the ball. Though the Western Oregon Wolves did start to find some passing lanes in the third quarter, the defence was just destructive to Western Oregon’s ground game, putting up eight sacks and limiting the Wolves to 13 points scored before halftime.
Considering that in four of the five games previous, SFU gave up a touchdown on the opposing team’s very first drive — and even on the one game they didn’t, gave up a field goal — the fact that the defence held them scoreless on the first drive was an accomplishment. (Though that was thanks to a missed 25-yard field goal by the Western Oregon kicker.)
The defence was something to watch. They were fast, they were mean — they looked like a team you wouldn’t want to play against.
“I thought that for the first half, we played much more disciplined football, especially from a defensive perspective,” said head coach Kelly Bates. “They just played very tough, aggressive football, they were in the right place to make plays. The difference between past weeks and this week, was even when we would get beat on a play, we were able to recover and would make a tackle, and the guys would still come up with stops.”
But with offence, it was a completely different story. Though in the first 15:46 of the game SFU had drives that gained 47 and 59 yards, for the rest of the game they were just unable to accomplish much of anything.
Quarterback Miles Richardson was sacked five times and threw an interception, but it was hardly his fault. There was no time for him to make decisions. It seemed as if on nearly every play, there was a Western Oregon player with a direct path to either sack Richardson or tackle whoever he handed the ball to. There was really no option but to pass the ball as soon as he got it.
A telling stat is that despite 171 passing yards, there were only 163 yards of total offence — rushing yards were in the negative.
“The difference between past weeks and this week, was even when we would get beat on a play, we were able to recover.”
“Offensively, we did have some success moving the ball early, however, we were unable to continue to play at the level we needed to to build on what we were doing, and as a result, our offence was really stifled all day long,” explained Bates. “It was a combination of poor pass protection, but also looking at the rush as opposed to keeping our eyes down the field and standing in there to deliver a ball.
“When we’re looking at the rush too early, that can have a negative effect and it’s understandable when we’re not blocking as well as we need to, so it’s a cycle that’s tough to correct.”
The lone chance for points from offence came at the end of that 59-yard drive 46 seconds into the second quarter. SFU had a chance for a 39-yard field goal, and had it been successful, SFU would have been down only 7–3. But as was the theme for offence, there was little protection, and the field goal was blocked.
The only other really effective drive for the offence started with 1:05 left in the game. It was too little, too late, and despite making 49 yards, didn’t have enough time to convert.
The only score in the game actually came from the defence. Sophomore linebacker Gabe Lopes intercepted a Wolves pass with about 4:30 left in the third quarter and ran it in 51 yards for a touchdown.
Now down 19–7 — a 12-point deficit — it looked like SFU could possibly use the momentum and stage a comeback. Instead, Western Oregon scored another touchdown in the drive after and took control of the game, winning by 33–7.
For one drive midway through the third, back-up quarterback Mihai Lapuste subbed in, with the Western Oregon commentators on the livestream speculating an ankle injury for Richardson. However, Richardson returned the next drive and played the rest of the game.
On the defensive side, it was a good night for SFU’s linebackers.
With nine total tackles (four solo, five assisted) in the game, senior linebacker Jordan Herdman broke the record for career total tackles — that means both solo and assisted tackles — with a total of 393, beating Buddy Wood’s 385 set in 2009.
However, Jordan didn’t even lead the defence this game — in tackles at least. Sophomore Nathan Kyeame — who, though listed as a running back, has played most of this season on defence — led with 11 total, eight of them solo. Jordan’s brother Justin Herdman was credited with 10 (five solo, five assisted).
Jordan Herdman and Brad Lyons both led the team in sacks, credited with two each.
“Our entire linebacking corp — Trevor Kemp, Jordan and Justin Herdman, and Gabe Lopes — had pretty good games, and it was obviously evident in Gabe’s pick-six, and the Herdmans being all over the field,” said Bates. “Those guys, they did what they were coached to do today. They didn’t try to do more, they didn’t try to do less, and that’s what we’re trying to get our kids to do.”
This was probably SFU’s most promising game so far. Though not SFU’s most potent game offensively — that was a 56–24 loss to Humboldt that saw Jalen Jana run 262 yards — it was the first game that SFU did most of its best work in the first half, when the game is competitive.
For much of the game, SFU was competitive. The bright spots didn’t come when the other team was already up 30-plus points, already packed in, and ready to go home with the win.
“I thought this week’s preparation throughout the week was better, we progressed in that respect, and I thought that showed early on,” said Bates. “But we still don’t have the ability to play an entire 60 minutes and we’ll continue to strive to do that.”
Though the competitive part of the game may not have lasted 60 minutes, it was a big step forward that it came in the first 30 minutes — and not the last 30.
NEXT GAME: Now SFU has a bye week before going to play the Azusa Pacific Cougars at home on October 22.
“We’re going to have to change some things up to help our kids have more success,” said Bates. “Well, there was probably a progression here, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We’re going to do what we do every week — we’ll go back, we’ll watch the film, we’ll study it, and see what we can correct to put our kids in a better position to have success.”
SFU has has already matched up against Azusa on the road on September 24 in a 64–14 score. It actually provided SFU’s only lead thus far, as SFU scored a touchdown on the initial drive to go up 7–0. That lead only lasted 5:41, until an Azusa touchdown and field goal made it 10–7. By halftime, Azusa was up by 34 points.
Azusa currently leads the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) with a 4–0 conference record, and is 5–1 overall. The team’s only loss this season came October 8 on the road against the Colorado School of Mines, which plays in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Azusa fell 27–23.
The Cougars are the best defensive team in the GNAC, allowing on average only 16.2 points per game. The team’s especially effective against the running game, allowing on average 93 yards per game. For context, SFU is at the bottom of the GNAC for defence, allowing 53.8 points per game.
Azusa quarterback Andrew Elffers is the most efficient passer in the GNAC, completing 69 of 105 attempts (65.7 percent). However, he is also credited with the second-least amount of passing yards out of starting GNAC quarterbacks, with 963.
The SFU defence will need another performance like this week, while the offence will have to figure out some way to put up points on the board, and will probably need to rely on the passing game to do so.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Swangard Stadium.