September 14th, 2022 12:00pm
Two weeks into the season, the Great American Conference has provided a lot of excitement on the football field and has answered a lot of the questions we had coming into the year. The usual pecking order of the conference has not changed thus far, and the middle of the league has a lot of intrigue as the year rolls along.
One thing that has stood out thus far is the plethora of dominant run games in the conference. Through two games, five of the top 16 rushing offenses in the nation can be found in the GAC, including four of the top seven. Certainly that likely won’t hold over the course of the 11-game schedule, but it’s something to keep an eye on and an impressive hook for the conference to hang its hat on.
However, the flip side is that five of the bottom 11 teams in the nation in rushing defense can also be found in the GAC. Again, it’s only two games in, but that’s a troubling trend for those schools, who have a lot of great rushing attacks to defend in the coming weeks.
Here are the Players of the Week in the GAC:
Offensive Player of the Week: Tylan Morton, QB, Southwestern Oklahoma State
-26-of-39, 281 yards passing, three touchdowns
-12 carries, 70 yards rushing
Defensive Player of the Week: Kaytron Allen, safety, Arkansas-Monticello
-Two interceptions, including a 90-yard pick-six
Special Teams Player of the Week: Jaren Van Winkle, K/P, Southwestern Oklahoma State
-3/3 on extra points and a 28-yard field goal
-Two 70+ yard punts
I had a rough week last week picking games, going just 3-3, but I’m looking to bounce back this week. However, it’s a tough week, as there are a lot of matchups in the conference that could go either way. Let’s dive in.
Game of the Week: Arkansas-Monticello (2-0) at Henderson State (2-0)
There are a couple good options for game of the week, but I went with the surprising Weevils traveling to Arkadelphia. UAM is 2-0 for the first time since 2011 and have rushed for 296 yards per game through two games.
On the other side, Henderson State has ridden its ground game to the tune of 244 yards per game. The quarterback position is a bit up in the air for this one, as it could be a game-time decision between Landon Ledbetter, who started the season-opener, and Andrew Edwards, who was outstanding in last week’s win over Northwestern OSU.
Both defenses have been good through two games, so whichever unit can limit the other’s ground game has a leg up for sure. The most fascinating question in this one is if UAM quarterback Demilon Brown can take advantage of an inexperienced Reddies secondary. If so, the Weevils could spring the upset. However, the Reddies have notched 10 sacks through two games, so that can give some relief to the back end.
This one really is a tough call, but I’ve got to go with the home team in a tight one.
Henderson State 28, Arkansas-Monticello 24
Southeastern OSU (1-1) at Southwestern OSU (1-1)
Here are two teams not particularly fond of each other and coming off completely different outcomes. The Bulldogs are riding high after the first win of the Josh Kirkland era last week against Southern Arkansas. Meanwhile, Southeastern comes in off a humbling road loss at Harding and will be looking to bounce back.
Offensive Player of the Week Tylan Morton showed he can be effective when given time in the pocket. He wasn’t sacked at all against Southern Arkansas after getting sacked six times at Henderson State. The Bulldogs might be able to establish more of a run game against a Savage Storm defense that was gashed for 389 yards on the ground against Harding last week.
Southeastern, despite the big loss last week, is still a really good team. However, with the amount of experience that returned from last year’s nine-win team, the start of the season has raised some questions. Perhaps the results thus far speak more to Southeastern’s opposition than the Savage Storm, but it’s still something to monitor.
Here’s betting Southeastern will get right on Saturday in Weatherford and look more like the Savage Storm from last year.
Southeastern OSU 35, Southwestern OSU 24
No. 9 Ouachita Baptist (2-0) at Arkansas Tech (1-1)
It’s a big test for the other big surprise of the conference, the Wonder Boys of Arkansas Tech. A win over East Central on Saturday that followed a close, but heartbreaking loss to Southeastern in the season-opener has opened everyone’s eyes to the Wonder Boys’ improvement. Quarterback Taye Gatewood has been solid thus far, and the defense, while not suffocating by any means, has done a really nice job through two games.
Ouachita looks outstanding on both sides of the ball to this point, leading the nation in rushing offense at 354.5 yards per game. The defense is coming off a shutout of Southern Nazarene last Saturday. The Tigers were also able to find some success through the air against the Crimson Storm after a dreadful performance in the season-opener against Oklahoma Baptist.
This is Tech’s first foray with one of the big five rushing offenses in the conference, so it will be a true measuring stick for how much improvement the Wonder Boys have achieved under coach Kyle Shipp. On the other side, Tech’s balance offensively will test the Tigers, but not enough to sway the result.
Ouachita Baptist 31, Arkansas Tech 17
Southern Arkansas (1-1) at No. 7 Harding (2-0)
The Bisons looked much more like the Bisons we’ve come to know last week in a big win over Southeastern. The run game looks dominant and the defense is on another level and that’s truly saying something.
Southern Arkansas put up nearly 300 yards on the ground against Southwestern last week, but couldn’t find any consistency through the air, thanks to the SWOSU defense, but also due to a stiff wind throughout the contest. They’ll need to rediscover that passing attack that shredded Northwestern in the season-opener.
Can the Muleriders find consistency on offense against the stingy Bisons defense? That’ll be the question for every Harding opponent the rest of the way. We know the Harding offense is going to chew clock and paper cut their way to yards and points. But if opponents can put game pressure on Harding by making them go punch-for-punch on offense, who knows what will happen. Unfortunately for SAU, I don’t think that will happen this week.
Harding 38, Southern Arkansas 21
Oklahoma Baptist (0-2) at Northwestern OSU (0-2)
The first of two winless matchups in the conference this week pits the Bison, who have struggled to replace the star power lost from last season, against the Rangers who just aren’t much better than they were a season ago. Regardless, someone is coming out of this one with a win.
Both defenses have struggled mightily through the first two games, so this very well could be a shootout, and not necessarily because either offense is elite. OBU’s Keihlan Harris remains arguably the best wide receiver in the conference, while Northwestern’s Tanner Clarkson can sling the ball around the field as well as anyone.
I really don’t know what to make of this game. OBU’s performance last week at Arkansas-Monticello was pretty shocking, to be honest, and just shows how hard it is to replace veteran leaders. Northwestern has played about as expected thus far, and unfortunately hasn’t shown a lot of improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
Expect a lot of points in this one. First one to get a stop wins.
Oklahoma Baptist 41, Northwestern OSU 38
East Central (0-2) at Southern Nazarene (0-2)
The Tigers’ 0-2 start has been a bit surprising as they, like Southeastern, boast one of the more experienced groups in the league. SNU struggled against Ouachita last weekend, but did show some promise in the season-opener against Arkansas-Monticello.
The key matchup will be the ECU offense vs. the SNU defense. Both respective units rank last in the conference statistically (to be fair, SNU is 11th in run defense and ninth in passing defense) and desperately need to right the ship. SNU’s defense has given up nine yards per play thus far, nearly last in the nation. ECU’s offense is averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per play.
While both of those units need to turn things around, it’s the East Central defense that will probably decide this game. Despite the 0-2 start, the Tigers are giving up just 331 yards per game and have allowed their first two opponents to convert just under 29 percent on third downs.
I think this will be a fairly close game, but I think the East Central offense gets going just enough to leave Bethany with the victory.
East Central 27, Southern Nazarene 17