Updated: Sep 26, 2021
HUNTSVILLE, Texas--The 2020 FCS Champion Sam Houston Bearkats (2-0) returned to Bowers Stadium for the first time since their thrilling victory in May over South Dakota State and took care of business in championship style against the visiting Southeast Missouri Redhawks (0-2) 52-14 in front of 7,728 emphatic fans. Only a day ago, the Kat football team was shown, for the first time, their newly completed locker room in the Ron Mafrige field house, and the champs didn't disappoint.
Eric Schmid threw 3 touchdown passes--two in the second half. While Ramon Jefferson blasted the Southeast Missouri defense with close to 150 first-half yards and two touchdowns while the Sam Houston defense clamped down on SEMO’s run game allowing only 103 yards on the ground. The Kats' offense gained another astonishing 297 rushing themselves.
All of Sam Houston’s offensive production came without superstar wideout Jequez Ezzard who was held out, presumably, after an injury in last week’s game at Northern Arizona.
The Kats finished with 561 yards of total offense averaging 8.0 yards per play highlighted by big runs from Ramon Jefferson (70) and Trapper Pannell (77) plus numerous 10+ yard gains by Jefferson and big chunk plays from Eric Schmid and the Sam wide receiver corps.
Things remained tight during the 1st and early 2nd quarters before big plays by Sam Houston turned a 14-14 tie into a 31-14 shellacking by halftime.
After forcing a defensive stop on their first possession, the Kats took the ball 81 yards in only 3:06 to take their first lead of the game punctuated by a Ramon Jefferson 1-yard touchdown run. Southeast Missouri would answer with a 43-yard touchdown strike from quarterback CJ Ogbonna to receiver Aaron Alston on a play where the Bearkats brought the house on a blitz and defensive back Isaiah Downs was caught looking in the backfield on a wheel route. Ogbonna’s touchdown pass capped a 7-play 79-yard drive.
Both teams simmered through the remainder of the 1st quarter by exchanging three-and-outs and accumulating zero yards in 12 combined plays.
The Kats took over possession with 1:50 remaining in the 1st quarter and promptly managed to outscore the Redhawks 24-7 over the final 16:50 of the first half. Sam Houston’s first score during that stretch came with a balance through the air and on the legs of Ramon Jefferson. Eric Schmid was 3-3 for 56 yards while Jefferson carried the ball for 22 yards. Schmid capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown strike to Cody Chrest.
The Kats defense continued its stingy start by forcing another three-and-out, but Sam Houston would turn the ball over on an Eric Schmid interception deep in Bearkat territory--a ball that was tipped by a SEMO defender and returned by Keandre Booker down to the Sam Houston two yard line. SEMO would punch it in two plays later to tie the game at 14-14.
On their ensuing possession, the Kats moved the ball deep into Redbird territory before Eric Schmid fumbled on a 3rd and 3 play due to a bad read-option exchange at the SEMO 12 yard line. SEMO couldn’t capitalize off of Sam’s second turnover when Tristan McCollum blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt.
From there, the track meet started.
Tied 14-14 with 3:25 remaining in the half, Schmid handed off to Ramon Jefferson who took the first play of the possession to the house for a 70-yard touchdown.
The Kat defense then got in on the action with an interception return for a touchdown courtesy of Jaylen Thomas to take the score to 28-14.
After another 3-and-out, Sam tacked on a Seth Morgan career-long field goal from 50 yards out with 8 seconds remaining in the half to take a 31-14 lead into the locker room.
Head coach KC Keeler was far from content to take his foot off the gas in the second half. From the opening gate, the Kats scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to go up 52-14. From there, mass substitutions at around the 10:00 mark remaining in the game for the Bearkats were the only thing that slowed them down.
Sam Houston scored second half touchdowns of 77 yards on a Trapper Pannell WildKat play and touchdown passes of 3 and 42 yards from Schmid to Ife Adeyi and Chandler Harvin respectively. Defensively, the Kats only allowed 90 total yards to the Redhawks over the final two stanzas--19 of those yards coming on a run by Shemenski Rucker on the next-to-last play of the game.
Sam Houston will enjoy a bye week before heading to Conway, Arkansas to play long-time Southland Conference (now WAC-ASUN Challenge member) Central Arkansas. The Kats have historically struggled in Conway going only 2-4 since 2010 and losing 3 of their last four on the stripes at Estes Stadium. That game is set for a 4:00 kickoff.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Good--A dominant win in all three phases of the game. The Kats put some of their miscues behind them from last week’s Northern Arizona game. While the defensive secondary gave up plays, the narrative that is forming about this 2021 Sam Houston squad is that nobody will run the ball effectively against this defense and that may come at the expense of some holes in the secondary.
For the second straight week, Sam Houston returned an interception for a touchdown. The special teams unit blocked a field goal preventing SEMO from taking a lead late in the second quarter and promptly handed the ball to Ramon Jefferson for a 70-yard touchdown run that was defined by physicality by the junior running back. Finally, Seth Morgan hit a career-long 50-yard field goal that probably would have been good from 55. Granted, all of this happened after he hit a 40-yard field goal that was negated due to a holding penalty.
Defense gets off of the field on 3rd down. One of the most frustrating things as a fan is to watch a team time and time again fail to get off the field defensively on 3rd down. It’s a hallmark of a well-coached, quality defense but astonishingly angering when a team forces their opponent into a 3rd and long situation only to give up a big play for a conversion.
Saturday’s game against SEMO saw the Kat defense only allow four 3rd down conversions the entire game out of 17 attempts by the Redbirds. Getting off the field on 3rd down will be crucial in tight games against the likes of Central Arkansas and Jacksonville State.
Tight end involvement. Sam tight ends caught 3 passes for 55 yards in Saturday’s win. Normally, you wouldn’t think much of that, but we’re seeing the tight end position used more in Ryan Carty’s offense which could be a big boon for the Kats later in the season as teams scheme against the SHSU receivers.
Sam’s second-half performance. The first half started out a little shaky before things settled down, but what was the true tale of the tape was Sam’s second half performance. The Kats scored 21 points on their first three offensive drives to put the game well out of reach and the defense locked down SEMO completely only allowing 90 second half yards to the Redbird offense.
The defensive lockdown is worth noting as the first half was far from the Kats' best. What’s most astonishing is that until the next-to-last play of the second half, SEMO had only accumulated 71 yards of total offense. This, to me anyway, proves that SHSU’s coaching staff is more than up to the task of making corrections at halftime and finding remedies throughout this season.
The Bad and the Ugly
I’ll shorten this week’s bad and ugly since, well, there really wasn’t a whole lot of both. Sure, you can nit-pick anything to make it bad or ugly, but with a final score of 52-14, can you really drum up that much to speak negatively of this performance?
Eric Schmid’s turnovers. I’m not going to fault Schmid nearly as much as last week for his two turnovers. The kid managed the offense well, but his turnovers again either took points off of the board or--in the case of his lone interception--scored points for the defense. Schmid’s first half interception was a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but if you watch the play, he was trying to feather a ball into a very narrow window--that, and the receiver on that side of the field appeared to be running a different route than Schmid was anticipating.
The fumble on the other hand could have been either prevented or eliminated altogether. Not sure what happened on that exchange, but Schmid appeared to be running a read option and simply didn’t pull the ball quite fast enough or didn’t have a good enough handle on it. Regardless, this is a correctable turnover and something that I would expect to see virtually eliminated as this team hits its stride over the course of the season.
Holes in the secondary. The holes in the secondary weren’t as glaring as they were during the NAU game. Sure, CJ Ogbonna completed his passes--mostly 10-15 yard gainers--but when it came to trying to balance that attack, SEMO had no answer for the Bearkat defensive front. Additionally, the Sam DBs were absolutely flying and had much tighter coverage downfield than in last week’s game. Finally, whatever defensive adjustments were made at halftime were the golden ticket for this secondary.
Stock Movement: Buy, Sell, or Hold
Stock Up--Sam Houston’s stable of horses. For a second straight week, Eric Schmid didn’t have his best stuff--not horrible, but not the 500+ yard performances he’s capable of. Also, with Jequez Ezzard on the sideline likely due to an injury due to a nasty horsecollar tackle late in the NAU game, some dudes stepped up.
Sam again very nearly eclipsed 300 yards on the ground and used a healthy stable of running backs. Ramon Jefferson accounted for close to 150 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and was able to rest the second half while Noah Smith, Zach Hrbacek, and Weston Stephens carried the load along with Trapper Pannell who dashed 77 yards for a touchdown.
Both Smith and Hrbacek will be invaluable as the season wears on, injuries start to nag, and defenses get stiffer.
Position update: Buy
Stock Down--WAC Digital Network/ESPN+ coverage. Boy, was that some atrocious stuff. I tuned in about mid-way through the 3rd quarter after my seat at Tarleton’s Memorial Stadium began to get about as uncomfortable as Fort Lewis’s head coach was wearing that suit on the east sideline. By the time I turned on the ESPN+ stream, things had mostly smoothed out aside from the epilepsy-inducing replays.
I watched the first half replay on Sunday afternoon and the choppy audio issues weren’t apparent, although the announcers moved in and out of a cave somewhere in the cavernous depths of Bowers Stadium.
Granted, I understand that a lot of the production is on the shoulders of the host universities, but I expected the return of the WAC to filter in some better quality. I’m not sure what the WAC’s goals are for their partnership with ESPN+, but they might want to get this fixed.
Position update: Sell
Unchanged--Sam’s offensive playcalling. If we know anything about Ryan Carty’s offense, it’s that his playcalling will most certainly be conservative until game situations necessitate creativity. There’s nothing wrong with this as Sam has some tough contests coming up most notably Central Arkansas, who will be hungry for a win after starting 0-2 and practically blowing a game on the road against Missouri State, and Jacksonville State who upset Florida State after FSU gave Notre Dame all they could handle in Tallahassee. (For the record, I'll buy some Jax State before I buy any Montana.)
Carty’s playcalling, while flavorless at times, isn’t setting the world on fire. One thing we haven’t seen much this year is the quarterback read-option. So difficult to prepare for, I have a feeling that Carty is keeping this portion of the playbook away from scouting eyes until later in the season. Clearly, Schmid, Shoemaker, and Pannell are more than capable of running the read-option, so expect to see more creativity as the season progresses.
Position update: Buy--You’ll wish you had later in the season.
This is the kind of dominating performance anyone would expect from the #1-ranked team in the nation at any level of football against a middle-of-the-road team. SEMO has a gauntlet of games to start its season and will be hungry for wins wherever they can get them after getting smoked at home against Southern Illinois last week and again this week in Huntsville. The Kats performed well throughout the game and played how we're becoming accustomed to them playing--kinda sloppy, kinda ineffective, then BOOM! explosions of points.
I think KC Keeler will use the bye week to get Ezzard healthy, clean up some of the miscues on offense, and tighten up the defensive secondary even more.
A Look Ahead
Sam Houston will take a week off before preparing for the first major test of the season on the road at Central Arkansas. As I said earlier, UCA has had the Kats number since 2010 in Conway and has been a thorn in the side of Kat teams for a decade. Strange things happen on the stripes of Estes Stadium, so Keeler, Schmid, and company better bring their A-game.
Fumbles and interceptions on offense could spell doom against UCA with Braylen Smith back at quarterback. Many FCS pundits and fans thought that UCA had a legitimate chance of being National Champions had they chosen to play the Spring 2021 season, and I don't think you'll convince UCA that they can't be National Champions this year despite losing their first two games--one at FBS Arkansas State and another in a heartbreaker on the road against Missouri State led by former disgraced Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino.
Bye weeks can be dangerous for teams, especially at the collegiate level. Sam has two of them this season due to the 10-game spring schedule--both coming before big tilts against UCA (September 25th) and Jacksonville State (October 23rd). For the Kats, expect head coach KC Keeler to use this as one of his patented "Get Better Weeks" and come out fresh and firing.
UCA on the other hand will not get a week off but instead will face Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a contest that they should control in their home opener. It remains to be seen what kind of team UCA will bring into September 25th's bout, but undoubtedly they'll be looking for (and needing) a win after starting the season presumably 1-2. This is a playoff bid-defining game for both teams, but it's even more important for the Bears.