At halftime, the defence hadn’t allowed a single point.
Normally that would be a good thing, but on October 22, SFU’s football team was already down 28–0 to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) leading Azusa Pacific Cougars.
“Our defence was outstanding today,” said head coach Kelly Bates.
The defence was perfect on three opportunities against the Azusa charge in the first. So how did the team end up down 28–0?
Three pick-sixes thrown and a fumble return. It wasn’t the worst score SFU had been down after the first half, but it was probably the most deflating.
“Offensively, we spotted them 42 points basically, and that’s unheard of,” said Bates, also referring to later points scored against the team. “You have to be good on every play. We drove the ball at times very well, but we would end with a terrible mistake, and make no bones about it, it was mistakes whether it was bad throws or bad blocking. They weren’t physical mistakes that hurt us off the bat, [. . .] but the mental mistakes hurt us at the start and those are hard to overcome.”
SFU played two quarterbacks for much of the game, alternating most drives with starter Miles Richardson and backup Mihai Lapuste. Observing the game, it looked like it may have been a reaction to the three pick-sixes thrown by Richardson on misreads, but Bates stated that it was “game planned” from the start to alternate the two.
“Make no illusions, we were at 0–6 and we’re at 0–7 now,” he explained. “And you’re trying to gain experience for all your players at this point in time, and you understand that you are building for the future, and to build for the future, you need to give guys reps.”
It was neither quarterback’s finest hour, with Richardson throwing four interceptions, sacked four times, and responsible for a safety, while Lapuste’s fumble at the end of the half was returned for a touchdown.
However, it would be unfair to blame either quarterback solely for an offence that wasn’t just not scoring, but was bleeding points. Once again, there was little to no time for either quarterback to make decisions — it was get rid of the ball as fast as possible or be sacked.
“We’re just too small right now. We’re asking some guys right now that are young and really shouldn’t be put in that position yet to do some things, but that’s where we are right now,” explained Bates, saying that offensive and defensive linemen are key targets for recruiting. “We need to bring in some size and depth at those two key positions, because you’re only as good as your offensive and defensive line.”
Snaps were bad, and have been a recurring problem. On the safety charged against SFU to make it 50–0, though Richardson kicked the ball into the endzone causing the two-point penalty, he was making a quick decision on a high snap causing a fumble — his kick probably protected against a worse outcome.
The thing is, the offence was making some yardage when they weren’t giving up the ball. Though 15 first downs is no accomplishment, it shows there was some ball movement. Before a 68-yard pick-six on the first drive, SFU had gained two first downs.
The last drive of the game — when, again, the other team has probably packed it home — the offence put up its best effort of the game, moving 75 yards and possessing the ball for just over 10 minutes. But still, even making within seven yards, it was not enough to prevent the shutout.
“We drove the ball at times very well, but we would end with a terrible mistake.”
Gavin Cobb was perhaps one of the few bright spots on offence, putting up a great performance on special teams, returning 136 yards in kickoff returns.
“It’s been fun to watch Gavin. He’s a young kid obviously, right out of high school,” said Bates. “He’s special, you guys can see that. I look forward to watching him grow and becoming the student athlete we think he will become.”
While the offence lost more points than it put up, the defence once again put in a solid showing — a recurring theme, it seems.
Though the defence did end up allowing some points in the second half — one touchdown occurring after Azusa recovered a fumble by the SFU offence on the goal line — and was, to some extent, worn down, it was incredibly effective against the Cougars early on.
In the second quarter, SFU faced off against the Azusa offence on a long, laborious drive that lasted 8:54, not unlike the last one by the Clan. Though Azusa was able to make 94 yards, the SFU defence was able to prevent the touchdown at the two-yard line — yes, at the two-yard line — by forcing a fumble. SFU recovered (only to throw a pick-six, but I digress).
“Psychologically, it’s very tough. I believe our guys responded very well today though,” Bates reflected on the defence, which spent much of the first half watching mistakes on the other side of the ball. “Our defence, they played well all week and we’ve adjusted on defence. We’ve changed things to allow the ball to be thrown underneath and [that] makes offences have to be perfect, and that’s fine. They can nickel and dime down the field and we’ve shown the ability to stop them when we need to. And today we did do that.”
Perhaps we’re seeing the route that SFU may have to take to find success: a strong defensive team that makes its splashes in stopping the ball, rather than a high-octane offence.
However, in order to do that, the team still needs an offence that can not only score some points, but not add them in the opposite direction.
SATURDAY: SFU embarks on a road trip to Arcata, CA to take on the Humboldt State University Lumberjacks.
In their last matchup, an SFU home game on September 17, the Clan fell 56–24, after giving up 35 points in the first quarter. However, SFU saw a resurgence in the second half, tying the Lumberjacks in fourth quarter scoring 21–21. Jalen Jana put up 262 rushing yards in an elite performance.
Winning the GNAC title last year and being the first team in the GNAC to make the playoffs since 2009, the Lumberjacks were expected to do big things this season — they were picked to finish first in the GNAC. However, they have fallen short of expectations, currently sitting in third, tied with fourth-place Western Oregon for their conference record (2–4).
Before a 42–37 victory over Western Oregon on October 22, Humboldt was sitting alone in second to last, ahead of only SFU.
Part of the reason may lie with star running back Ja’Quan Gardner, who has been limited by injury, rushing for less than 80 yards in four of eight games. Gardner had 211 rushing yards and four touchdowns against SFU in their last matchup.
Statistically, Humboldt has one of the worst defences in the GNAC, allowing more yards per game than SFU (484.4 yards per game to SFU’s 438.7), and allowing 38.2 points per game (second-last to SFU’s 54.3).
But Humboldt is still an elite offensive team. The team leads the GNAC in both passing and rushing offence.
If there’s a team that SFU’s offence can find some sort of groove against, it might be the Lumberjacks, who supplied them their best performance so far. But the defence will have to keep up the level of play from the last two weeks — and may have to force some offence themselves.
Kickoff is at 6 p.m.