Losing two starting offensive linemen in the first half of a game usually is not a recipe for building a strong rushing attack.
That is what happened, however, for Northwestern State in Saturday’s 48-21 loss at Houston Baptist. The Demons overcame the loss of both starting tackles to produce a season-best 146 rushing yards against the Huskies, nearly equaling what the NSU rushing game totaled in its first three games of the season.
“The O-line played well,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “They played physical, played relentless with some guys banged up. (Jonathan) Hubbard, our left tackle, goes down probably in the third series, and Brody Griffin has to come in. Jake Gore, our right tackle, goes down in the first half, and Parker Fink comes in. Those guys didn’t miss a beat. That’s one thing I told them in the team meeting (Sunday) is when your opportunity gets called, make sure you’re ready. Those two guys were ready.”
NSU entered Saturday’s game with 200 rushing yards and with just two 10-yard rushes by its running backs in the first three games.
Both Jared West and Stadford Anderson contributed two runs each of at least 10 yards Saturday night with both running backs establishing season highs in yardage. West carried 17 times for 80 yards and a touchdown while Anderson gained 56 yards on 11 carries.
Despite running behind a different alignment up front for most of the game, West’s yardage total surpassed the 62 yards he gained in Weeks 1-3 while Anderson’s 56 yards equaled his output in that same time.
“Coach (J) Pond does a great job with those guys, making sure those guys get good reps in practice, so when a guy goes down, it’s a next-man-up situation,” West said. “Those guys, when they get to come in, their hair’s on fire. They’re always ready go to. They have a lot of experience and know exactly what to do.”
Laird credited Pond as well for his role with the offensive line.
“Sometimes as an 18-to-22-year-old, it’s hard to stay on track, because every guy wants to start, wants to play,” Laird said. “You have to take advantage of the opportunities you have in practice to prepare yourself. When it’s a next-man-up mentality, you’ve got to be ready to go. Credit coach Pond for getting those guys ready to play. It was good to see that from that group from a physical standpoint.”
That mentality extended to the Demons receivers as well.
“I don’t know how many catches Quan Shorts has, but it doesn’t matter,” Laird said. “You turn on the tape and watch him block. Good night. There are some things we can take from that Houston Baptist game and build on, but you look at two things. One is red-zone opportunities. We were 1-for-3 and turned it over on downs at the plus-22, so we’re basically 1-for-4. Then you have the turnovers. We had three turnovers.
“Defensively, yards after contact. We gave up 271 yards after contact and had 23 missed tackles. You’re not going to win games doing that. As frustrating as it is, there is a lot to build on.”
And West fits into that category.
“A little bit of comes from (being healthy),” Laird said. “A little of it is the O-line. He missed basically all of spring practice, and Stadford did a great job then. He was in and out of fall camp, so he was trying to get into that rhythm. Confidence is huge, and that’s one thing you can see. He is running with a lot more confidence.”