Updated: Nov 2
Sam Houston took down Tarleton in a road contest while setting an all-time college football record behind offensive fireworks and defensive struggles. Here are 5 takeaways and leftovers from Sam’s 45-27 win over the Texans as well as a look at the postseason.
Win Streak Continues and an All-Time Record Falls
Sam Houston won their 18th consecutive game dating back to a 37-14 win over Houston Baptist at Bowers Stadium on November 23, 2019. Sam Houston hasn’t lost a football game in 23 months. The Kats’ 18-game win streak is currently the longest at both the FBS and FCS levels of Division I.
Perhaps the biggest headline that will go largely unnoticed as part of the Bearkats win in Stephenville on Saturday is that Sam Houston broke a record that has roots dating back to the late 1800s by winning their 17th game in a calendar season. North Dakota State had previously won 16 games in the 2019 calendar year tying Yale’s 16-0 1894 team and the University of Chicago's 16-0-2 Maroons squad from 1899.
Interestingly enough, the University of Chicago team was coached by one of college football’s early pioneers and all-time great coaches Amos Alonzo Stagg whom the NCAA Division III National Championship is named for. Stagg was an All-America end on Yale’s 1889 team that narrowly missed a 16-0 season losing to Princeton to end their year at 15-1.
Eric Schmid, Have Yourself a Day
Eric Schmid had a career day on Saturday going 26-38 (a 68% completion percentage) for 312 yards, 5 touchdowns, and a 175.5 passer rating. He also scrambled for a rushing touchdown accounting for all 6 of Sam’s touchdowns on the evening. Schmid also completed his 50th career touchdown pass and netted his 3rd career game with 5 or more passing touchdowns and 3rd career game with 6 or more total touchdowns accounted for.
Other Bearkats had career days on the offensive side of the ball including Cody Chrest who caught 9 passes for a career-high 148 yards, Ife Adeyi who had his second career game with multiple touchdowns, and Ramon Jefferson who had his best day as a Bearkat going for 168 yards on 22 carries.
Huge Questions on Defense and a Blueprint is Revealed
KC Keeler revealed in his postgame press conference that defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin did not travel with the team due to a family situation, and Carlin’s absence showed on the defensive side of the ball.
Todd Whitten and Steven Duncan continuously attacked the seams against the Sam Houston secondary, with quick, on-time passes and torched the Kats’ DBs with 12 explosive plays of 15+ yards netting a total of 303 yards through the air on those 12 completions.
While part of the issue was likely Carlin’s absence, the overall play of the secondary should be concerning come playoff time. It’s one thing for the Sam Houston secondary to hemorrhage yards in the passing game against teams looking to make up 3-score deficits, but it is something entirely different to do so in such an explosive way thereby allowing an opponent to stay within striking distance.
In all likelihood, thanks to the FCS looking to better regionalize early-round playoff games, the Kats very well could be in a playoff bracket with former conference foes Incarnate Word and Southeastern Louisiana--both pass-happy offenses--not to mention Eastern Washington which could spell trouble if the Kats end up in a shootout with either squad.
The blueprint to beat Sam Houston isn’t new or revolutionary, but Steven Duncan may be the best quarterback the Kats have faced this year and Tarleton’s offense was the first to put that blueprint to work. Quick passes down the seam both allow the offense to take advantage of Sam’s tight coverage and doesn’t allow the defensive line time to get home to the quarterback.
There are plenty of questions and not as many answers to that type of attack, but Carlin, Keeler, and company will have some soul-searching to do.
Sam’s Offense Finally Explodes
Sam Houston’s offense has notoriously been slow to start this season but seemed to find their groove against a Tarleton team that boasts a handful of All-WAC defensive candidates. Where Tarleton blew out the stat sheet with 12 explosive plays through the air and 2 (of 10+ yards) on the ground (both in the final minutes of the game), the Kats erupted for big plays of their own.
The Kat offense accounted for 7 explosive plays through the air for 179 yards and 3 touchdowns but ripped up the turf at Tarleton’s Memorial Stadium with 10 explosive plays for 171 yards on the ground. Big, explosive plays are the hallmark of this offense when it’s firing on all cylinders, and ripping off 17 of them will win a lot of football games as long as the defense can limit theirs.
Where is Ezz?
Jequez Ezzard has been a shell of himself this season. In a year where he gained an extra year of eligibility and has had every opportunity to showcase his talent to NFL scouts and take Sam’s already explosive offense to the next level, Ezzard has largely been a ghost on the field.
I alluded to Ezzard’s potential to play the “too cool for school” card after the Northern Arizona game to open the season. Saturday’s performance was eerily similar to that early September matchup. He only touched the ball twice all night against Tarleton--a 16-yard reception where he looked every bit as elusive as he ever has and a 12-yard punt return to set up good field position for the Kats.
I watched at least two balls get thrown Ezzard’s way and little-to-no effort to catch either of them. One, similar to the throw Schmid made to him in the NAU game, was a lollygag lackadaisical effort to halfway throw his hands up in an effort to catch the pass while another would have required Ezz to actually do some work to catch the ball up the right side of the field.
Ezzard is such an electric and dynamic player that it’s hard to keep him off the field, but if he’s only going to show up in big games when the Kats need him (JMU and SDSU come to mind), is it better to give reps to guys like Chandler Harvin? I’m interested to see how the rest of the season plays out with Ezzard in the lineup.
Playoff Picture and The Remaining Season
With the Kats sitting at 7-0, 5-0 in the WAC-ASUN challenge, and 3-0 in the WAC, Sam Houston continues to sit atop the FCS world and will be ranked #1 in the nation again going into Week 10 of the college football season. But that #1 ranking may not translate into a #1 seed for the Bearkats. Sam Houston, to the surprise of no one, has played a much softer schedule than was anticipated before the 2021 season kicked off, and that strength of schedule issue will likely drop the Kats out of the top seed assuming North Dakota State wins out to also go undefeated.
No matter what, assuming Sam Houston goes 3-0 over its final 3 contests to finish 10-0, the Bearkats should at least secure a #2 seed, and for all intents and purposes, there is absolutely no difference between #1 and #2 as both seeds secure home-field advantage to Frisco. Where playoff seeding could become critical is where the rest of the bracket stands on Selection Sunday.
There are a handful of teams that would be troublesome to the Bearkats in the bracket as early matchups. Pass-happy teams to the tune of Eastern Washington and Southeastern Louisiana are both hovering near the bottom of the FCS top 10 rankings, and very well could be matchups to watch when the bracket is revealed. With as much trouble as the Kats had with Tarleton’s vertical attack, the last thing the Kats want to see in early December is a similar version of the same offense.
It’s anyone’s guess how the bracket will materialize in a few weeks. Sam Houston fans can reasonably hope for both EWU and SLU to stumble and fall out of seeding territory, but that will certainly come with a handful of other troubles as well. I’m not saying to cheer against those squads, but they’re not teams SHSU wants to play early in the playoffs.
The remainder of the schedule for Sam is a mixed bag of teams. Dixie State is winless and won’t get their first on Saturday at Bowers, but the next week very well could be the game that decides who gets the WAC-ASUN auto-bid into the playoffs when Eastern Kentucky comes to town.
EKU blew past a hapless Lamar squad 42-10 on Saturday to move to 6-2 overall and 3-0 in the AQ7 but will face a stiff test against SFA in Nacodoches in Week 10 before traveling back to the Piney Woods for a date with Sam Houston. EKU is a well-coached and disciplined football team that, unless they stumble in Nacogdoches, will bring a top 25 ranking into Bowers. For EKU, winning out could mean an outside shot at a playoff seed, but for the Kats, there is much more at stake.