The re-boot of Simon Fraser football continued Saturday night in Glendora, Cal., and as their competition took a huge spike up in quality form a week ago, the Clan’s margin of defeat may have, on first glance, taken its faithful back to that dark and familiar place.
But maybe there is a new set of calculations that have to be used to grade just where the 2018 Clan really are in the early stages of their growth under new head coach Thomas Ford.
Not as good as the team that won by 47-points (at home to Willamette last weekend), yet not as bad as the team which lost by 44 points (at Azusa Pacific) on Saturday.
That leaves a ton of grey area to navigate, yet it really is too early to try to pinpoint where a team, one game beyond a 33-game losing streak, really sits in the grand scheme of things.
Following a 58-14 loss to one of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s top teams, and one of the upper-echelon teams in NCAA Div. 2 football, here’s five Clan football developments worth following:
1 HOW FULL IS THAT GLASS?
When appraising a team that is young and still not sure how to win, a kind of chicken-and-egg theory always arises when you study its box score following a lopsided loss.
Inevitably, said losing team gives away points in bushels through its own mistakes.
The question is, did they make those mistakes under the duress of the opposition? Or are they simply the mistakes most closely associated with youth being served?
On Saturday, Clan starting quarterback Miles Richardson threw three interceptions (at least one not his fault), and the team lost two of its three fumbles.
In the end, SFU lost the turnover battle by a 5-2 margin against Azusa Pacific, the key reason that it only trailed 21-7 with five minutes left in the half, but went to the locker room down 38-7.
I know. You’ve heard this before.
But if this team is indeed different and ready to start showing real and sustainable improvement over the course of this season, they need to be judged more against the average than the opposite ends of the spectrum.
“We’re still young and we need to take care of the football,” Ford said Saturday night from California. “What happened tonight is that small mistakes have a way of turning into big ones against good teams.”
Central Washington, considered one of D2 football’s ultra-elite programs, are here in two week’s time to offer a glimpse of how those so-called little mistakes can turn into big ones, and in a hurry, too.
But there are other teams on the Clan’s schedule who are better than Willamette but likely weaker than Asuza Pacific. And it’s there where we will gain the best perspective.
In the meantime, it’s pretty hard to say that the Clan took a step back on Saturday night.
2 IS CONTROLLING THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE A FANTASY?
Not if you compare SFU’s ability to run block over the past two weeks.
“We ran the football better than we did a week ago,” said Ford without hesitation. “I’ve been really encouraged by their development. I am not sure if the team ran for 100 yards in a game last year, but we ran for 147 tonight.”
The numbers don’t lie.
SFU ran 43 times for 111 yards (2.6 ypc avg.) vs. Willamette, and then followed Saturday against Asuza Pacific by rushing 32 times for the aforementioned 147 yards (4.6 ypc avg.). And the numbers and averages were not only up as team, they were also reflected in the efforts of its lead running back.
RB-1 Jason Nelson, while not matching the two one-yard TD’s he rushed for last week, was statistically better,
Nelson carried 21 times for 66 yards (3.1 ypc avg.) against Willamette and then went 16 carries for 76 yards (4.8 ypc avg.) vs. Asuza Pacific.
Certainly, those numbers can’t be discussed in an absolute vacuum. SFU’s passing numbers wilted Saturday from the week previous, after all.
But it’s wrong to say they haven’t gained some traction.
3 MILES AND CO.
Senior Miles Richardson’s experience factor makes him the easy call to hold the Clan’s starting quarterback position.
Yet its folly to ignore the big picture beyond this season, and that is why Ford has made sure to bring along touted freshman Justin Seiber in each of the last two weeks.
On Saturday, Seiber was 8-of-9 for 40 yards, and he threw the team’s only touchdown of the game, a three-yard pass to tight end Spencer McCabe with under three minutes remaining.
Last week against Willamette, the pure freshman from Kentwood High was 5-of-11 for 79 yards and a score.
That’s 13-of-20 for 119 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions on the season. Modest in terms of verticality, yes. But also, efficient in ways that younger pivots so often times are not.
“We know he has the skills to be our quarterback of the future,” Ford said Saturday of the player who could well be the starter when the Clan opens its 2019 season next September at the FCS’ Portland State Vikings of the Big Sky Conference. “So he can’t sit on the shelf. He has to get meaningful minutes.”
Richardson, however, gives a growing team the savvy it needs at this moment.
“Miles did good things, he kept it alive with his legs,” continued Ford after Richardson’s 29-yard rushing major pulled the Clan to within 14-7 in the first half. “Right now, he’s our guy for a reason. He gives us good leadership and when he gets banged around he just gets back up and keeps going.”
4 GAVIN’S GONE (AND MISSED)
For this season, anyway, following a season-ending hamstring tear, and no one has been missed more.
We’re talking about return man/receiver Gavin Cobb, who came to camp this fall as the most dangerous and most proven talent on the roster.
Consider that last year as a sophomore, Cobb returned eight kickoffs for 135 yards in an 83-7 loss to Asuza Pacific.
OK, yes, he got a lot of opportunities.
On Saturday, against the same team, SFU used four different kick-off return men, and they combined for 130 yards on nine returns.
The hope is that SFU can fill Cobb’s shoes this season by committee, and it showed Saturday how many players it is going to take to make up for his loss.
Imagine him as a part of the 2018 team’s up-and-coming receiving core.
5 CATCHING ON FAST
Last week we talked about pure freshmen receivers Devin O’Hea from North Vancouver and Robert Meadors from Vancouver, Wash.
Both were excellent against Willamette where they combined for seven catches and an even 100 yards, and each scored a touchdown.
Neither found the end zone Saturday against an Asuza team that schemed to take away everything over the top.
Yet on a pass-challenged night, they again helped the Clan provide a semblance of balance within its offence.
O’Hea, the former Argyle Piper, had six catches for 61 yards to lead the team. Meadors had seven for 45 yards.
Through two games, each has 10 catches and a score, O’Hea with 121 yards and Meadors with 85.
“Those two guys are very competitive and they continued to take steps forward and it’s will be great to see how they improve over the next two to three years,” said Ford.
As well, junior Rysen John was again in the mix, but a penalty wiped out a touchdown catch Saturday for the former Vancouver College star.
Simon Fraser plays at South Dakota School of Mines this Saturday (4 p.m.). It returns home Sept. 22 to play its toughest foe of the season in Central Washington. Asuza Pacific plays at SFU on Oct. 13.
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