Home opener no easy task for Hounds
September 8, 2018
PORTALES — “Do your job.” That famous Bill Belichick quote is something that Eastern New Mexico football is living by this week, as the Greyhounds try to bounce back from last week. The Hounds opened the season at Missouri S&T last Thursday, where they surrendered 512 total yards of offense in a 31-14 defeat.
Tonight, however, won’t be much easier for ENMU (0-1), despite it being the team’s home opener. Eastern faces No. 25 Colorado Mesa (1-0), another team with plenty of offensive balance to account for.
“They played alright — about 80 percent of the plays. But if you don’t play well the other 20, you can get hurt,” Greyhounds coach Kelley Lee said of his defense’s performance last week. “That’s what we gotta correct. We have to do things right all of the time, and not just part of the time.
“Just do your job. Do your assignment and don’t do any more than that. Do your job, focus on the assignment and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Eastern defense, which typically faces a “Ground Strike” option offense in practice, had its woes against a pass-happy Miners team. S&T quarterback Tyler Swart threw for 293 yards and four touchdowns, finishing with an astounding 189.4 rating.
This week, the ENMU defense will face the double-threat of Colorado Mesa quarterback Eystin Salum. Salum threw for 257 yards and a touchdown in a 36-33 win over South Dakota Mines last Saturday. However, Salum also led the way on the ground, finishing with 111 of the Mavericks’ 229 rushing yards.
“(Salum’s) got good poise. He doesn’t just look to run when things are bad. He’ll scramble around, buy some time and throw it, too,” Lee explained. “Good player and everything goes through him. We’ve got to disrupt him.”
Brad Hardin, the Greyhounds’ graduate linebacker, says that the coaching staff simplified things in practice this week, as he believes that everyone is now on the same page.
“We had a lot of new guys coming in — it’s a whole new system for the guys that have been here,” Hardin said. “I think the first game, we’re just trying to figure it out — had our toes in the water. I think this week, we’re all the way in.”
Offensively, ENMU did not have its typical success on the ground. The Hounds rushed for just 201 yards on 4.7 yards per carry. That’s good enough for most teams, but in a run-based offense that averaged nearly twice that a year ago, that’s essentially sub-standard, at best.
Lee says that his offense “stubbed their toe,” as a combination of penalties and missed assignments stalled drives. He went on to say that ENMU didn’t have that many yards, in part, because it didn’t run that many plays. A bevy of three-and-out’s, along with drives lasting just a few plays beyond that, sunk the Greyhounds’ chances of success last week.
This time around, Eastern will face a very versatile Mavericks defense.
“They’re multiple. They’re kind of an under-front team,” Lee explained. “You’ll see a 50, you’ll see a 4-3, you’ll see an eight-man split box. They can get into a lot of different things. I think their identity is that they play really hard in pursuit of the ball and tackle well.”
Last week, running back Paul Terry led the way with 86 yards on 20 carries, while Johnny Smith added 73 on just eight carries. Quarterback Wyatt Strand, meanwhile, put it in the air quite a bit, by the Greyhounds’ offensive standards. Strand went 8-of-15 for 68 yards.
As for the Mavericks’ defense, they yielded 431 total yards and 22 first downs against South Dakota Mines. Of that, nine of those first downs came on the ground, along with 163 rushing yards on 31 carries (5.3 yards per carry). But, Mesa overcame a nine-point fourth quarter deficit, while the defense held Mines to just 32 total yards in the final period.
But while Mesa will be quite the challenge tonight, at least the Hounds have the advantage of playing in the friendly confines of Greyhound Stadium. For Hardin, it’s the final home opener of his ENMU career, and he hopes it goes off without a hitch.
“It’s definitely humbling,” Hardin explained. “I’ve been here for a while, I got to play in this stadium the last two years. I’m just excited to go out. Hopefully we go out with a bang.”