By BEN JOHNSON
Kenny Evans shied away from using the word “embarrassing.” Immediately following Northeastern State’s season-opening, 45-6 loss at Pittsburg State, NSU’s head coach still found some rays of sunshine amid a miserable monsoon.
“No, I wouldn’t use embarrassing at all,” Evans said on the field at Carnie Smith Stadium in southeast Kansas. “That team (Pittsburg State) right there has embarrassed people, and you see 50- to 60-point games all the time in this league — even against good teams.”
If the RiverHawks were grasping for positives following the lopsided loss to the Gorillas, they would have been hard to come by. However, NSU did not turn the ball over against Pittsburg State, and the RiverHawks had a 36.4-yard average on seven punts.
But, when punting becomes a plus, the overall picture is likely to be quite bleak.
One glaring area that Pittsburg State dominated in against NSU was running the football. The Gorillas logged 354 yards on 46 carries, good enough for 7.7 yards per carry.
That’s not welcome analysis for the RiverHawks, who will see a heavy dose of the running game when Missouri Southern rolls into Tahlequah on Saturday at 2:37 p.m. for a MIAA Network-televised contest.
The Lions, who led the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in rushing offense last season, will offer up a three-headed rushing attack, spearheaded by quarterback Jay McDowell and tailbacks Chris Barnwell and Giresse Forchu.
“They go with the flexbone (formation),” Evans said of the Lions, who ran for 241 yards in a 52-38 thumping of Central Oklahoma in Week 1.
“They have a new quarterback, who actually threw the ball real effectively against UCO.”
McDowell did in fact complete 10 of his 11 passes against the Bronchos for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
Because of that, NSU will not be able to bring every defender up near the line scrimmage in an attempt to slow down the Lions’ running game.
“We can’t just stack up on the run,” Evans said. “...They do have some other weapons at receiver, ... so we’ll have our hands full there.”
Evans stressed an importance on grabbing an early lead against Missouri Southern, who knocked off the RiverHawks, 27-21, in Joplin, Mo., last season.
“(UCO) fell behind early, and if you can get that flip-flopped and get up on a Missouri Southern — a team that would really rather run the football — you’re odds are a lot better,” Evans said. “They’re not a catch-up team; they don’t have the sophisticated passing game.”
Missouri Southern at Northeastern State
When: Saturday at 2:37 p.m.
Where: Doc Wadley Stadium.
Radio: KTLQ, AM-1350.
TV: MIAA Network.
Nicknames: NSU RiverHawks; Mo. Southern Lions.
Coaches: NSU - Kenny Evans (sixth season, 20-36); Mo. Southern - Daryl Daye (second season, 7-5).
Records: NSU (0-1, 0-1 MIAA); Mo. Southern (1-0, 1-0).
Rankings: NSU is not ranked in Division II; Mo. Southern is receiving votes in the coaches’ top-25 poll.
Series record: NSU leads 12-5.
Last meeting: In 2012, Missouri Southern beat NSU 27-21. The Lions ran for 325 yards and were able to run out the clock on the RiverHawks, who scored with 2:13 left to trim the deficit to six points.
Last week: Pittsburg State 45, NSU 6; Mo. Southern 52, Central Oklahoma 38.
News to know: NSU will be without quarterback Johnny Deaton (fractured fibula) and middle linebacker Jack Gray (broken hand) for its home opener. Both players will be out at least a month for the RiverHawks. ... Fifty-two points by Missouri Southern was the most points the Lions have scored since racking up 68 against Southwest Baptist in 2011. ... NSU and Missouri Southern combined for only eight penalties (four apiece) in the opening week of the season. ... This is the first of two straight games on the MIAA Network for Missouri Southern.
Players to watch
Northeastern State: Joel Rockmore (RB).
• Rockmore, a junior tailback, will take on more responsibility on offense with Deaton out for the RiverHawks. Rockmore had 99 yards rushing against Pittsburg State, but 42 of those came on one run. Other than that, Rockmore was bottled up most of the night by the Gorillas.
Missouri Southern: Giresse Forchu (FB).
• Forchu, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound sophomore, had 48 yards rushing and 107 yards receiving in the Lions’ season-opening win over UCO.
Looking ahead: NSU continues at home on Sept. 21 against Washburn, while Missouri Southern returns to Joplin to take on Lincoln.
NSU football notebook: General takes over at middle linebacker
His name is perfectly formulated for what he’s about to do. Eddie General is going to be thrust into a general’s role on Northeastern State’s defense.
“I have to be a leader now,” said General, who will take over at middle linebacker with starter Jack Gray out with a broken hand.
Gray, who injured his hand during the week leading up to the RiverHawks’ game against Pittsburg State, played against the Gorillas and logged five tackles and a half tackle for loss. Now, though, Gray will have to watch from the sidelines for the foreseeable future.
In NSU’s 45-6 loss to Pittsburg State, General finished with three tackles.
General is now faced with an ample amount of playing time, something he couldn’t visualize more than a month ago.
“I came in as a walk-on and didn’t know what to expect,” said General, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior. “I’m usually a rover as an outside guy, but they needed me at Mike, so I stepped up to the plate.”
A native of Reddick, Fla., and a Troy University transfer, General said the area he needs to improve in his game now is reading the offense more efficiently.
“My main adjustment is reading the tackles,” General said. “I have to learn how to read my keys, and I basically have to get off the ball better.”
More position changes
In addition to making necessary changes at quarterback and middle linebacker, the RiverHawks are also entering an experimental role on offense. NSU has moved Kenny Garrett from the defensive line to starting at right tackle.
“He’s a very unselfish player,” NSU head coach said of Garrett, a 6-4, 290-pound senior from Oklahoma City. “We experimented with him playing offensive tackle in the spring.”
With Garrett being inserted at the right tackle spot, Buck Spurger — who started at right tackle against Pittsburg State — was moved to a reserve role behind Trevon Lawson at right guard.
“It was hard to replace (Michael) Bowie and (Dustin) Reid,” Evans said of his starting left tackle from last year (Bowie) and his projected starter at right tackle this season before it was determined that Reid would not be given medical clearance to resume his collegiate career.
“The fact that Garrett was able to move there was a big plus. Hopefully we can protect our quarterback a little better.”
Evans described Spurger’s move to right guard as playing now at “his natural position.”
Garrett, who started at defensive tackle in the first week of the season, will be replaced in the starting rotation by Kenley Choute. Dakota Moran will back up Choute.
The RiverHawks’ only roster switch-up was moving former Broken Arrow standout Steven Hooper from safety to a reserve at running back. Hooper would be behind Joel Rockmore and Terrance Dixon and likely Ashdon Perry.
Hooper is still listed as the RiverHawks’ backup at strong safety.
On the airwaves
While it lacks the clout of a SEC or Big Ten Network, the MIAA Network will be in Tahlequah to televise the RiverHawks’ game against Missouri Southern on Saturday. The game will kick off at 2:37 p.m. at Doc Wadley Stadium.
The game can be viewed on Cox Communications’ channel 3 (703 for high definition).
This will be NSU’s lone game on the MIAA Network this season. Missouri Southern will be on the network again next week when it hosts Lincoln.
All fans wishing to attend an NSU home football or basketball contest this season will be required to show a ticket prior to entering the facilities. NSU students and faculty and staff will still be allowed free admittance, but NSU ID's will no longer be accepted as a form of entry. NSU students and faculty and staff can access goriverhawkstickets.com and secure their free tickets (either printable or downloaded to your smart phone) through their goNSU accounts.