by: Alex Welch
The Shorter Hawks travel to Livingston, Ala. to take on the West Alabama Tigers on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, with CSS providing the coverage of this Gulf South Conference matchup.
West Alabama enters this week's matchup with a one-game lead in the Gulf South, sitting at 2-0 in conference play and 5-2 overall. The Tigers came close to setting a school and conference record for scoring last week, putting 73 points on the scoreboard against College of Faith, just seven shy of their all-time high. Nowattemptingto climb into the Division II rankings, they'll look to continue their strong run in 2012 with just four games remaining on the schedule.
Shorter, a newcomer to the Gulf South this season, is attempting to stay above .500 after improving to 4-3 last week with a 37-7 win over Ave Maria. The Hawks face a tough road with four conference games ahead. Their first Gulf South matchup against North Alabama wasn't quite thebeginningthey were looking for, failing to put any points up in a 41-0 defeat.
These two teams have faced off just once in the past. The Tigers took down the Hawks 37-7 back in 2010. While Shorter is still working its way up the ranks of college football, West Alabama surely won't be expecting a simple walkover this week.
Let's take a look at what you should watch for when these two teams face off on Saturday.
1) Quarterback Eric Dodson posted a career-high 147 rushing yards and three touchdowns last week for the Hawks. The sophomore is averaging just 93.9 yards passing per game, as Shorter heavily relies on the ground attack each week.
2) Junior running back Bradley Moon has been the biggest threat for the Hawks on the ground, averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 94.4 yards per game. His nine touchdowns lead the team so far in 2012.
3) Brandon Morten may not touch the ball often, but he's bound to break off a huge chunk of yardage when he gets involved in the passing game. The senior slot back has eight receptions on the year for a ridiculous 296 yards and three touchdowns. So 38 percent of his catches have gone for scores. Not bad.
4) Red-zone performance isn't a strong suit for Shorter. In 25 trips the team has managed just 11 touchdowns, averaging 44 percent in these situations. West Alabama gives up a 62 percent touchdown rate in the red zone on defense. Now is the time for the Hawks to make the necessary improvements to boost their scoring output.
5) The Hawks don't mind taking a risk on fourth down. In 17 attempts this season, they have converted 14 fourth-down situations. That kind of aggressive mentality will need to be a factor on Saturday.
6) While West Alabama likes to run the ball often, you'll see more balance from this roster. The Tigers are averaging 237.4 rushing yards and 165 passing yards per game. They're currently out-gaining opponents by nearly 150 yards per game.
7) Expect to see a combination of Gary Johnston and Kyle Caldwell under center. Johnston has rushed for 372 yards and four touchdowns, but he only averages 40.4 passing yards per game. Caldwell is the one who moves the ball most often through the air. He enters this game with 829 passing yards and five touchdowns.
8) Kicker Ryne Smith leads the conference in scoring, averaging 9.4 points per game. He's been perfect on all 14 field goal attempts this season, and hasn't recorded a miss since a blocked kick back in 2011 against Harding.
9) The Tigers lead the nation is pass defense, yielding just 114.57 yards through the air per game. Overall they rank fifth in Division II, giving up only 253 total yards each week. After allowing 3.7 yards per carry to opposing runners through their first seven games, the Tigers will surely focus on stopping the Hawks on the ground.
10) In seven games the Tigers have outscored opponents 166-66 in the first half. Their total of 40 fourth-quarter points is likely a result of blowing out several teams, but it's clear this team thrives on getting off to a fast start.
by: Alex Welch