By Dave Wagner
Eastern New Mexico University has displayed a potent offense while Southwestern Oklahoma has relied on its defense two games into the season.
But both teams are off to 0-2 starts, and veteran coaches Bud Elliott of ENMU and Paul Sharp of Southwestern are looking for the other side of the ball to come around when the teams clash in a 6 p.m. Lone Star Conference crossover game on Saturday at Blackwater Draw.
“Right now we can’t be concerned about what (the opponent is) going to do,” said Elliott, who remains one win short of 200 in his 37-year collegiate coaching career. “We just have to get ourselves straightened out.
“We’re not going to beat anybody until we get back to playing our game. We’ve played two very good football teams, but it’s ridiculous the kind of plays we’re giving up.”
ENMU has lost five in a row going back to Elliott’s 199th career win, a 10-3 victory last October over Texas A&M-Commerce. Included in the streak is a 17-14 setback to Southwestern at Blackwater Draw in the 2003 season finale.
Meantime, the Bulldogs have played pretty good defense this season in losses to Oklahoma Panhandle State and Midwestern State, but two of their three touchdowns so far were scored by linebacker Charles Thomas.
Sophomore Ryan Breeze replaced starting quarterback Beau Dodson during last week’s game and led Southwestern to a late TD, but it wasn’t enough.
Sharp said he’ll likely go back to Dodson, also a sophomore, this week.
“We’re struggling on offense,” Sharp said. “We’re young on offense. We’ve just got to be patient and hopefully we’ll come around.”
He said perhaps the Hounds’ biggest problem is who they’ve played — strong teams in Central Arkansas and Southeastern Oklahoma, both led by highly regarded quarterbacks.
“They’re still an outstanding football team with a lot of seniors,” Sharp said of the Hounds. “We know we’re in for the fight of our life.”
ENMU defensive coordinator Mark Ribaudo acknowledged that his unit’s slow start — 83 points and more than 1,000 yards allowed — has something to do with the competition.
“But we’re not executing the way we need to be to win games,” Ribaudo said. “We just need to focus on ourselves and correct some of the mistakes we’re making.
“Central Arkansas is a good football program, top to bottom. Southeastern is a decent team led by a great football player (quarterback Drew Beard). In Division II, if you’ve got a great quarterback you stand a chance of being a pretty good football team no matter what you’re supporting cast is like.”
Sharp said preparing for Eastern’s option attack is always a challenge.
“They’re the only team in the conference that runs the flexbone,” he said. “(To defend it) you have to make sure you’ve got everything covered.”
Elliott said the Hounds must avoid turnovers and other mistakes on offense and stick to their responsibility assignments on defense.
“We know what we need to get done,” he said. “We’re just not getting it done right now.”
SW Oklahoma at ENMU
6 p.m. Saturday
At Blackwater Draw
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3
Records: Southwestern Oklahoma 0-2, ENMU 0-2.
Coaches: Southwestern Oklahoma, Paul Sharp, 19th year; ENMU, Bud Elliott, 11th year.
Last meeting: The teams played in the 2003 finale at Greyhound Stadium, with Southwestern pulling out a 17-14 victory.
Southwestern players to watch: Jr. TB Jimmy Jenkins, Jr. TB, 5-9, 196; Charles Thomas, Sr. LB, 5-11, 221; Michael Hart, Jr. DB, 6-0, 183; Danny Howard, Jr. WR, 6-2, 185.
Of note: Southwestern turned four second-half ENMU turnovers into a victory in 2003. … While the Greyhounds have had trouble trying to stop two high-powered opponents, the Bulldogs have struggled to score. Thomas is the team’s surprise early scoring leader with two of the Bulldogs’ three touchdowns so far — a fumble recovery in the end zone in a 21-7 loss at Oklahoma Panhandle State, and an 34-yard TD return of an interception in last week’s 19-14 loss to Midwestern State. … Sharp became the school’s all-time leader in coaching victories last season. Overall, he’s 92-91-1 at Southwestern. … Jenkins, who has just 68 yards on 26 carries so far this season, needs another 108 yards to become the sixth player in Bulldogs history to rush for 2,000 in a career. … Thomas leads Southwestern’s defense in tackles with 29. No. 2 on the team is senior LB Josh Musick, a Clovis High graduate, with 19. … Since joining the LSC in 1997, the Bulldogs have gone 6-18 in LSC crossover games against the South Division.
Quotable: “We’ve got to get our running game going. We’ve got to be able to run the football to win games.” — Southwestern coach Paul Sharp, on his team’s net of 79 yards rushing in the first two games.