By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Mark Ribaudo expected Eastern New Mexico University’s secondary to be challenged last week by Northeastern State’s air attack.
The Greyhounds passed that test, winning 14-10, but now may face a bigger challenge against East Central in a 6 p.m. Lone Star Conference crossover game today at Blackwater Draw.
Sophomore quarterback Marcus Johnson has thrown for 619 yards and seven touchdowns through three games for the Tigers (1-2), who beat Angelo State soundly last week after road losses to nationally-ranked Pittsburg State and Tarleton State.
Ribaudo said the Tigers have made strides under second-year coach Kurt Nichols, although it hasn’t shown up yet in their record. East Central was just 2-8 last season.
“You can see how Kurt’s starting to get his program to where he wants it,” Ribaudo said. “He’s improved the talent level there.”
Meantime, the Hounds are looking for their first 3-0 start since 2003. Ribaudo said he was generally satisfied with last week’s performance on both sides of the ball.
“I was really pleased with the pass coverage, and with the defense in general,” he said. “On offense, even though we didn’t generate many points, we were extremely physical.
“This was our first taste of a good LSC defense. I think there’s a lot we can build on from that game.”
Senior fullback J.J. Jennings believes the Hounds will gradually become more efficient on offense.
“I feel like we’re going to have a better game than last week on offense,” Jennings said. “We’ve been working extremely hard in practice, and I think we’re fixing the mistakes from last week.”
Ribaudo’s main area of concern was on special teams, but he’s confident things will get better in that area. ENMU missed three field goals against the RiverHawks, including one which was blocked, and also muffed a punt.
“We put a lot of time into specials,” he said, “so I think, barring anything unforeseen, we’ll be all right.”
Johnson, who is capable of taking off and running, completed 26-of-34 passes spread among 11 receivers against Angelo. He set school single-game records with 386 passing yards and six TD tosses.
On the other hand, the Hounds hope to take advantage of a Tigers defense which surrendered 567 yards to Angelo, although it held the Rams to three first-half points.
“They have some pretty good defensive linemen,” Jennings said of the Tigers. “Overall, they’re pretty quick.
“We just want to come out and be aggressive.”