October 5th, 2022 11:00am
We’ve reached the halfway point of the 2022 season and the GAC has provided no shortage of entertainment thus far.
We’ve had the expected and the unexpected this year, and as we move into the second half of the year, we’re excited to see how the conference title race shapes up and how the teams at the top position themselves for the Division II Playoffs.
Here’s a quick look at the conference players of the week from week five.
Co-Offensive Player of the Week- Xavier Malone, Henderson State, WR
-Five receptions, 163 yards, two touchdowns
Co-Offensive Player of the Week- Tylan Morton, Southwestern Oklahoma State, QB
-358 passing yards, three touchdowns
-64 rushing yards, one touchdown
Defensive Player of the Week- Richard Silva, Southwestern Oklahoma State, LB
-Three tackles for loss
Special Teams Player of the Week- Gabe Goodman, Ouachita Baptist, K
-6/6 on extra points
-2/2 on field goals, including a 55-yarder, the second longest in GAC history and a Ouachita Baptist school record
And without further ado, here’s a look at the slate of games in the GAC for this week.
Game of the Week: Henderson State (4-1) at East Central (3-2)
Our game of the week takes us to Ada where the Tigers, winners of three straight games, play host to the Reddies. The Tigers looked miserable offensively in the first two games of the season, but have since rebounded to right the ship. Quarterback Kenny Hrncir has been terrific and the emergence of tailback Nemier Herod has certainly played a big factor as well. The Tigers are looking more like the team we expected them to be with nearly 20 returning starters. The defense has been great all season, ranking third in both total defense and scoring defense. They’ll be facing one of the most balanced teams in the GAC, as Henderson State ranks in the top half of the conference in both rushing and passing offense.
The Reddies have a bit of a quarterback issue on their hands—the good kind, too. Redshirt freshman Andrew Edwards has been terrific throwing the ball, but Landon Ledbetter, a veteran who has patiently waited his turn, is the more dynamic runner. The Reddies turned to Ledbetter in the second half against the porous Southeastern OSU run defense and he shredded the Savage Storm for over 100 yards in the final two quarters. It’s a good thing to have two great options, but there’s no indication which one will start on Saturday or take the majority of the snaps. Here’s betting we see both this week.
How both teams handle the pass will be the key to this one. The Reddies have recorded 18 sacks this year, second in the conference, number that has helped cover up some of the personnel issues in the back end. The Reddies are last in the conference in pass defense, giving up over 300 yards per game. East Central is second in pass defense, allowing just 158 yards per game this year and boasts a veteran secondary.
The Tigers have been playing really well the last three weeks, but I think the Reddies are just too potent offensively for ECU to spring the home upset.
Henderson State 28, East Central 24
Southwestern OSU (3-2) at No. 4 Ouachita Baptist (5-0)
Southwestern is one of the biggest surprises in the conference this year, if not the biggest. The Bulldogs are in their first year under coach Josh Kirkland, and he has remade the roster with a ton of transfers, none more important than quarterback Tylan Morton. This was not a game we expected to have a lot of meaning this year, but after winning two straight games, the Bulldogs go to Arkadelphia to see how their improvement stacks up against the best in the conference.
The Bulldogs have done it with Morton running the offense and a punishing front seven that has racked up 14 sacks the last two weeks. That outburst puts SWOSU in a tie for third nationally with 21 sacks so far this season. They’ll face a tough test this week in the ground game of the Tigers and the two-headed monster of TJ Cole and Kendal Givens. The Tigers are averaging 315 yards per game on the ground this year, second in the nation to fellow conference foe, Harding. That’s been the recipe all year, so don’t expect it to change on Saturday.
On the other side, Morton leads the conference in passing touchdowns, but the Tigers defense is No. 1 in the conference in pass efficiency defense, with opposing teams averaging just a 109.1 pass efficiency rating through five games. It doesn’t help matters that SWOSU is just 10th in rushing offense, averaging 138 yards per game. Being one-dimensional isn’t going to beat the Tigers at home.
This game will be closer than we ever expected it to be when the year started, but look for Ouachita to take care of business at home.
Ouachita Baptist 31, Southwestern OSU 14
Northwestern OSU (0-5) at Arkansas-Monticello (3-2)
I think this one will be pretty simple to decipher. The Rangers are putrid defensively, giving up nearly 300 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, Arkansas-Monticello, despite rushing for just 94 yards a weeks ago in a loss to SWOSU, is one of the top rushing offenses in the country, led by quarterback Demilon Brown. I’d expect the Weevils to get back on track running the football on offense.
Unfortunately for Northwestern, their best weapon also figures to be neutralized. Quarterback Tanner Clarkson is a dangerous quarterback and still have good options to throw to and put up yards and points. However, Arkansas-Monticello has a league-leading 11 interceptions this season and is fourth in pass efficiency defense.
The Weevils take care of business at home and keep the Rangers winless in 2022.
Arkansas-Monticello 34, Northwestern OSU 21
Southern Arkansas (2-3) at Southeastern OSU (2-3)
Lots of blue and yellow will dot the field in Durant on Saturday when these two teams collide. You’d be hard-pressed to find two teams that have been more up-and-down this season. Southeastern especially is looking to get back on the winning track after dropping their last two contests. They’ll be faced with a tough task: stopping Jariq Scales and the Southern Arkansas rushing attack. So far this year, Southeastern has not proven to be able to do that. They’re 11th in the conference in rushing defense and last in the nation, giving up 6.8 yards per carry. The Muleriders come in averaging 263 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry on the ground. Not exactly a recipe for success for the Savage Storm.
However, Southern Arkansas does have to deal with Daulton Hatley and his veteran group of receivers. Hatley is third in the nation with 1,669 yards passing through five games and receiver Marquis Gray leads the nation with 750 of those yards. It’s an explosive offense regardless of the Savage Storm’s 2-3 record this year and it’s tough to shut down.
After a rough two-week stretch, I think the Savage Storm get back on the right track at home against the Muleriders.
Southeastern OSU 35 Southern Arkansas 27
No. 7 Harding (4-1) at Southern Nazarene (1-4)
Six games into the season, no one expected this to be a matchup of two top-10 rushing offenses, but that’s exactly what we get in Bethany on Saturday when the nation’s top-ranked rushing offense (Harding at 325 yards per game) collides with the Crimson Storm’s 7th-ranked (262 yards per game) attack.
The difference in this one will be the defense. Harding boasts the best rushing defense and total defense in the conference. SNU’s defense is considerably less critically acclaimed, ranking last in the country in yards per play allowed and second-to-last in yards per carry. The big number for this one is Harding’s 56 percent third down conversion rate (second in the nation) and SNU’s 58 percent opponent third down conversion rate (last in GAC).
Things don’t look great on paper, but perhaps the SNU offense can punch some holes in the Harding defense and try to go blow-for-blow with the Bisons. I don’t think the Crimson Storm will get enough stops to get the job done, however.
Harding 31, Southern Nazarene 17
Arkansas Tech (2-3) at Oklahoma Baptist (1-4)
The Wonder Boys rode a strong second half performance against SNU last week to pick up their second with of the season. They’ll carry that momentum to Shawnee where the Bison are looking for just their second win of the season. OBU performed better than expected against Harding last week, but a loss is a loss. The Bison turned to quarterback Aidan Thompson in the loss to the Bisons and the redshirt freshman performed pretty well, throwing for 197 yards and rushing for 49. He should be able to find some success against a good, but not great, Arkansas Tech defense.
The Bison defense has been quite vulnerable against the run this year, giving up 262 yards on the ground this season, 10th in the conference. They’ll be facing an Arkansas Tech team that just gashed the Southern Nazarene defense for 282 yards on the ground in the win last week. Backs Devontae Dean and Deon Simmons are both capable of running on the Bison.
Both of these teams have had some good moments and some really bad ones this season as well, so it’s hard to get a clear picture of what they’re all about. In a toss up game, gotta go with the home team.
Oklahoma Baptist 27, Arkansas Tech 21