By Dave Wagner, Freedom New Mexico
On the surface, Eastern New Mexico University’s switch from a run-dominated option game to a pass-oriented spread offense this season looks like it’s not going well.
And it isn’t, if you look at the Greyhounds’ 1-4 record (0-1 Lone Star Conference South Division). Still, freshman quarterback J.J. Harp sees better days ahead.
“We’re real close,” said Harp, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder from the east Texas town of Argyle who got his first start in a 56-11 loss to fourth-ranked Abilene Christian last week at Blackwater Draw.
“We had the ball longer (36 minutes to 23 for the Wildcats), we ran more plays (92-53) and we had more first downs (25-20),” he said. “We’re just lacking the big plays right now.”
Harp took his lumps against the athletic Wildcats. He was sacked four times and ran for his life on other occasions, completing 36-of-61 passes for 199 yards.
The completions tied a school record set by Kevin Kott in 1984, and fell one short of the school mark of 62 attempts set earlier this season by freshman Cory Baker.
Harp said things will improve when the team cleans things up.
“We all made bonehead mistakes,” he said of last week’s game. “I made three or four huge bonehead mistakes, and that’s going to stop.”
Angelo (2-3, 0-1) and ENMU are two of the three South teams not ranked in the NCAA Division II top 25, but the Rams have shown a stiff defense in the early going — against a fairly rugged schedule.
Last week, they held No. 21 Midwestern State to 159 yards, the third time this season they’ve held an opponent under 200, but came away with a 17-3 loss. A 65-yard punt return set up one touchdown and the Mustangs returned a fumble for their other TD.
“We’ve got a lot of guys playing well on defense,” fourth-year Rams coach Dale Carr said.
Angelo lost junior quarterback Josh Neiswander for the year to a broken leg in its season-opening 21-14 loss at Texas State, and two freshmen have been sharing time since.
“It’s been a struggle on offense since that time,” Carr acknowledged. “They’re good players, but it hurt us a little bit.”
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said the Hounds will focus on junior running back Daniel Thomas, who ran for 156 yard and three TDs in the Rams’ 28-21 double-overtime win last year at Blackwater Draw. Thomas is averaging more than 100 yards a game this season.
“To beat Angelo, we’ve got to stop that tailback,” Ribaudo said. “They’ve got a good weapon there.
“We have to focus on us. We need to improve our pass rush and pass coverage, and improve on our pass protection. Those things have to happen for us to be successful.”
Meantime, Harp said he expects a stiff test against the Rams’ defense.
“They’re going to be another athletic team,” he said. “They’re getting more athletic every week. But I feel pretty good about this week. I think we’re going to come together.”