Eastern’s inability to stop first two opponents has coaching staff puzzled

Dave Wagner

PORTALES — 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 have to 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.”