The chartered plane’s landing at the Flagstaff airport today was one for the books. Usually things settle down a little when you’re getting close to the ground – I sat by a fighter pilot on a previous flight and he explained it to me – but not this time. Calamitous from start to finish. Hit the ground hard, jump up a little, land again, then slam on the brakes. When it was over, the players began to applaud.
It likely added some spark to the Coyotes’ walk-thru at Walkup Skydome. It’s a domed stadium with a wooden roof and it holds 10,000. Attendance varies, ranging from sellouts to less than 5,000. I’m guessing Saturday’s crowd will fall somewhere in between.
I’m calling this the Joe Salem Bowl in honor of the former USD football coach, who left USD after the 1974 season to coach at Northern Arizona. He was there for four years and had a 26-17 record prior to leaving for Minnesota.
As far as the actual game goes, I see defense of the run as a big factor. The Lumberjacks have one of the best in FCS in Zach Bauman. He hasn’t done much so far, however, running for just 56 yards last week in their win over UC Davis. NAU coach Jerome Souers attributed some of the problems to having a pair of starting offensive linemen who are redshirt freshmen. Expect Bauman to run the ball until the Coyotes show they can stop him. Looking at the Kansas tape, they have to figure they can get their go-to guy loose a few times.
Last year the Lumberjacks went 8-3 with losses to former Great West programs Cal Poly and Southern Utah in their last two games, spoiling hopes for a playoff berth. They return nine starters on defense, however. My hunch is they’ll be very difficult to move the ball on, especially early. USD guard Andrew Schofield called it the best defensive line the Coyotes have seen this year. The linebackers and defensive backs aren’t too bad either, outscoring the entire UC Davis team last week by a score of 14-10 in a 21-10 win.
Joe Glenn expects a close game. He expected a close game against UC Davis and he got it. He expected the Northern Arizona game with UC David to be close and that was also on the mark. This week, he’s expecting more of the same.
For that to happen, USD is going to have to bank on a few of the standard tried-and-true pregame clichés. Mistakes in a close game are magnified. Resolve tends to mean quite a bit, and stopping the run game, in this specific instance, will need to take place for the Coyotes to have a serious chance of breaking up a 16-game road losing streak.
A lot of people will be looking for improvement in the punt game, which cost the Coyotes dearly against Kansas, and the passing game. Ironically, the less people see of either, the better. No punts would be just fine with Glenn and no passes would mean Trevor Bouma, Jordan Roberts and Josh Vander Maten are doing very well in finding yardage with the zone read plays.
I would guess the passing you do see will pretty conservative. Trevor Bouma will see several balls come his way. When USD does try to go to its wide receivers, I’m thinking you’ll see short routes.
Statistically, the Coyotes can be encouraged in two areas: They’ve given up just 110 yards passing a game and they’ve run for more than 200 yards in two straight games. It’s way too early to take much stock in such things, but if USD can come close to those same marks against NAU, they definitely have a shot.