The Edge

04/08/03 Coach John Bronkhorst

This is the 1st installment in a weekly breakdown of an NIFL game of my choosing.  I will analyze the game from a coaching perspective.

So with that being said, I could not think of a better game to pick, do to familiarity, not quality, than the Austin Rockers at Tupelo Fire Ants.

Lets take a walk back in history to a little over a year ago.  Austin, at the time known as the Knights, entered the Tupelo game with a 1-4 record and starting a 5 game road trip.  We not only were in shock by how things had gone to this point, but I felt we were a team that was seeking an identity.  During that week, the offensive staff had decided to make a change at Quarterback.  Brad Ericson was our starter the first 5 games and had done an adequate job, but we felt we were missing something on offense.  So we named Joshua Barnes the new QB.  We go to Tupelo, win the game 67-55 and Barnes provided the spark offensively that we needed, he rushed for 126 yards and threw for 97 yards.  This was a breakout game not only for Barnes, but also for our team.  We went ahead and won all 5 road games and ended the season 9-5. 

Fast forward to the 2003 season.  Austin enters this game 0-2 and struggling to find consistency in its game and what seems to be a struggle to find an identity.  Sound familiar?  Tupelo enters this game 0-3 and struggling as well.  Both teams are sport 0-2 records in the Atlantic South Conference and can ill afford another conference loss.  Austin comes into this game averaging 28 points per game offensively, while surrendering 50.5 points per game defensively.  Tupelo comes in averaging 17 points per game on the offensive side while it defense is giving up 33.6 points per game. These 2 teams have some things in common already in this young season, they both have played Beaumont and Lake Charles and both have lost those respective games.  Tupelo lost to Beaumont in Week 1, 33-10, while Austin lost to Beaumont 34-28 in Week 2.  Tupelo lost to Lake Charles 55-10 in Week 2, Austin lost to Lake Charles 67-28 in Week 4.  So on paper it looks like a wash in respects to how each has faired against common opponents, but I would give Austin the edge based on the performance against Beaumont.

Ok, now that we have all the “Numbers Game” out of the way, lets get down to nuts and bolts of the game and what it will take for each team to win this game. 

OFFENSE:  Tupelo:  The Fire Ants are still energized by the return of QB Matt Wyatt, who is out of Mississippi State.  The fact that they are coming out of a bye week has allowed for Wyatt and his receivers to gel and get cohesive with each other.  Chris Rainey is averaging 4 yards per carry, that has always been a standard for my running backs.  If you can run the football at 4 yards a clip, than you can move the chains.  Rainey needs to carry more of the load in the running game and get more carries.  If Tupelo can do this and achieve 4 yards/carry that will help Wyatt and his receiving corps to pick a part a suspect Austin secondary that plays for aggressive, maybe too aggressive.  The Rockers secondary has had difficulty with defensive holding by their corners early on this season.  If the WRs can get into their motion and hit the line of scrimmage at full speed and make the Rockers corners chase them around, they could have the advantage all night.  If they allow the Rockers corners to get a jam on them at the LOS and knock them off their routes, that will spell doom for Wyatt and the OL. 

The keys for Tupelo offensively is to run the football, shorten this game and pick apart the Rockers secondary.  If they do this, they will find themselves on the winning side of the scoreboard.

Austin:  The Rockers have the horses in the stable, the problem has been getting them all to same race.  Austin returns the leagues leading receiver in terms of number of receptions, Lee McCormick.  They return an experienced QB in Brad Ericson and they possess one of the most explosive and exciting players around in RB Shon Mitchell.

Lets start at the receiver position.  McCormick is one the smartest receivers I have ever coached.  If its 3rd and 6 and you need a first down, Lee is going to find the opening in a zone to get that first down.  If Austin can get McCormick the ball more than 6 times a game, they will be able to dictate the pace of the game.  The issue here is not trying to get him the ball; it’s who is going to throw it to him?  Last week, Chris Abrego started for the Rockers.  I do not know much about him other than the fact that a QB rating of 9, passing for 62 yards with zero TD’s and 2 Ints is not going to make it in this league.  Brad Ericson, who was the Rockers week 1 starter, is the best option the Rockers have at the QB spot.  Brad has a very strong arm, which is a positive in this league and has a working knowledge of how to get McCormick the ball and how McCormick thinks.  The question mark surrounding Ericson is his lack of foot speed and his tendency to see the field thru a tunnel.  What I mean by that is that he tends to not see the whole field therefore doesn’t see the how the secondary is playing as a unit.  If a QB can see the whole field and sees the secondary as a unit, that will determine the QB progression and target.  If the QB sees the field thru a tunnel, it gives a defense a definite advantage.  Austin does possess, who in my mind, can be a BIG-TIME playmaker in former University of Texas standout, Shon Mitchell. Mitchell at the RB spot for the Rockers makes this offense instantly dangerous.  Mitchell has unadulterated speed.  This kid can flat out run.  The problem is, he doesn’t touch the ball enough.  Last week against Lake Charles, he had 11 carries and caught 1 ball.  That should be his stats after one quarter, let alone an entire game.  If the Rockers want to be successful and want to take pressure off of Ericson or Abrego, Mitchell needs at least 20 – 25 touches a night. 

With all that being said and both teams Offensive Lines being equal, the offensive advantage goes to. Coming out of the bye week is going to prove to be the difference for the offense.  Austin uncertain QB situation is a big factor to their success or lack of it.

Tupelo 

DEFENSE:   Austin:  The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Austin defense, its Veteran Leadership.  But its time for the veteran leadership to step up and provide it.  To be giving up 50.5 points per game is shocking.  Just as they did last season, this group has the ability to set the tone and emotion for the entire team.  The key for the Rockers defense comes from the front 3.  If DL can get pressure on Wyatt and disrupt his flow, they will have the advantage all night.  If they can’t and it lets Wyatt set his feet, he will pick apart an already suspect secondary.  The secondary has to play smarter at the LOS.  It cannot allow the receivers to get in their routes cleanly.  If the do and Wyatt has time, it will be a long night for the Rockers defensively.  Although Tupelo is coming off a bye week, they still may be game rusty early, and that is a good opportunity to take advantage of an offensive unit still trying to find themselves.

Tupelo:  The question surrounding this unit is, can they stop anything?  They give up 255 thru the air and 181 on the ground.  The good thing for them is they face an Austin team that has issues of their own offensively.  The key for Tupelo is can they get pressure on the QB and confuse him in the secondary.  The one thing that we saw from Tupelo defensively last year was that they are susceptible to misdirection plays.  We put in a Zone Read, where we had the QB in the shotgun and used the over-aggressive play of the defensive ends to dictate who was going to run the ball.  If the DE took the RB, the QB would pull the ball and run.  If the DE played the QB, he would give it and we would run a simple zone play.  We ran for 200 yards last year against Tupelo.  If the Fire Ants can play fundamentally sound and play their responsibilities, they will be successful.  If they don’t and start to play reckless, Austin will run over them.  Eggleston, Tupelo DL has got to get pressure on the QB and disrupt any flow he has.  If the Fire Ants do not make Austin’s QB’s uncomfortable, the Rockers WR are good enough to pick them apart.  The saving grace for Tupelo is that the Rockers OL had a tough game last week against Lake Charles.  The Landsharks were in the backfield all night creating havoc.  If Tupelo can get anything that resembles pressure, they will have a good chance to be in this game come the 4th Quarter.

The advantage here goes to the Veteran Leadership of Austin and their desire.  The old saying goes, do not question the heart of a champion.  Austin

SPECIAL TEAMS:  The only thing that comes to mind here is, for God’s sake can someone make a PAT or FG?  Hill, the returner for Tupelo is a burner and a quality return specialist.  He already has one return for a TD.  If Austin can contain him and his returns and force the Fire Ants to drive a long field, they should control the game.  Of course the same can be said for the Fire Ants.  If they can control the Rockers return game and force them to drive a long field, they can control the game.

Advantage:  Push – until both teams show some consistency in the kicking game, no one is better than the other.

Now that the game has been broken down and when the clock reads 0:00, I really feel that when its all said and done, the Austin Rockers will come away with their first victory of the season.  Will this be a stepping-stone as it was a year ago?  Only time will tell. 

Austin 38

Tupelo 28


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