During wins over Fort Hays State and Nebraska-Kearney, No. 8 Northwest Missouri State showed signs of breaking out offensively after two sub-standard performances.
In Saturday's 66-6 thrashing of Northeastern State—a game that marked the return of starting quarterback Trevor Adams and starting center Cole Chevalier from injuries—the Bearcats finally hit on all cylinders.
Executing to near perfection for four quarters, Northwest (4-1, 3-1) scored on its first eight drives and 10 of 12 overall, setting new-season high's for points, total yards (654) and rushing yards (346) without committing a turnover for the second straight game.
It was Northwest's third straight game scoring 35 points or more after failing to hit that mark in either of the first two.
All of the sudden, the Bearcats rank 10th nationally in scoring offense (41.0 ppg) and third in the MIAA behind No. 1 Pittsburg State (45.6 ppg), and No. 25 Emporia State (41.6 ppg).
"My whole goal is you don't turn the football over," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel. "We've done a good job of that the last couple of weeks. We always start there and try to be balanced after that because I believe a balanced offense is the best offense you can have. I thought we've done a good job the last couple of weeks. I certainly think we've gained a lot more confidence then we had at the beginning of the year."
Several factors have played into Northwest's recent offensive revival.
First and foremost has been the re-emergence of the run game.
Over the last three weeks, the Bearcats are averaging 265.3 yards on the ground. In the first two, they averaged less than 100.
The passing yardage numbers haven't spiked in the same manner, but the quarterbacks are doing a much better job with ball security and accuracy.
Northwest has thrown just one interception in the last three games after Adams tossed five in the first two.
On Saturday, Adams played his first turnover-free game since week four of last year, completing 19-27 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns.
He and back-ups Brady Bolles and Tyler Seals have completed 63-89 (70.8 percent) passes in the last three weeks.
This, along with the Bearcats ability to run the ball much more effectively, has increased their third down conversion rate dramatically.
In the last three games, the Bearcats have picked up 23-40 (57.5 percent) third down attempts. They were an incredible 11-14 Saturday.
In the first two games, the Bearcats were 9-29 on third down and 2-13 in the opener.
"The goal you always shoot for is 50 percent," said Dorrel. "If you're 50 percent on third down conversions, most likely you're going to win that game. That's very high. That's a high standard we set for ourselves. I've always said I feel like the quarterbacks earn their scholarships on third down. You can have a guy in your program and program him properly to manage the game. Then on third down, the guy has to make a play. Our guys did a good job with that Saturday, a really good job."
The other major contributing factor to Northwest's offensive success has been the competition level.
For the last three weeks, the Bearcats have gone against defenses currently ranked 12th, 13th and 14th in the MIAA in points allowed and 13th, 14th, 15th in total yardage.
Central Oklahoma's defense also ranks in the bottom third of the MIAA in both categories, making another huge offensive game from the Bearcats a distinct possibility this Saturday in Edmond, Okla.
No big plays allowed
In holding Northeastern State to six points, the Bearcats moved up to No. 1 in the MIAA and sixth nationally in scoring defense.
Northwest is surrendering just 12.6 points per game, holding four of five opponents and each of its last three below 13.
"Coaches are doing a good job of getting us in the right spots, game-planning well and people have just been doing their job and not trying to do too much," said Northwest senior linebacker Matt Massey.
The Bearcats collected four more turnovers Saturday, giving them 14 on the year—tied for first in the MIAA—and now lead the MIAA in turnover margin at +7.
Northwest also ranks second in total defense, third in rush defense and fourth in pass defense.
The Bearcats are allowing less than 200 yards per game through the air, and incredibly, haven't given up a pass play of longer 28 yards in the last three games.
A 62-yard swing pass to Central Missouri running back LaVance Taylor stands as the only play of over 30 yards against Northwest this year, meaning the Bearcats have yet to get beat over the top.
"I think a lot of it has to do with our coaches," said Dorrel. "I think our coaches are doing a really good job of putting those kids in position to succeed, not just the (Dixon's), but all of our secondary. I think a lot of it has to do with our scheme, too. They're trying to keep everything inside and in front of them. The kids are listening. The other thing is we're getting a pretty good rush with just four people. When you do that, you don't have to blitz which opens you up to big plays."
After missing the first five games with a hamstring injury, Northwest Missouri State senior safety Clarke Snodgrass could make his first appearance of the season Saturday.
Snodgrass will be a full participant in practice this week, and if all goes well, Dorrel says he'll be available at Central Oklahoma on at least a part-time basis.
Junior Travis Manning has filled in for Snodgrass and played one of his best games of the year Saturday, with a pass-break up and four tackles.
Northwest's other injured starter—junior tackle C.J. Keeney—will miss the rest of the season with an undisclosed leg injury he suffered during the week two loss to Central Missouri.
Dorrel says they are working on getting him a medical redshirt.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver DeAris Flint didn't dress Saturday, but that had nothing to do with being injured.
He was suspended for a violation for team rules, leading to early playing time for James Cairney.
Dorrel said it would be determined during practice this week whether Flint would see the field at Central Oklahoma.
Northwest got back two of its injured starters—Chevalier and Adams—last week.
Relied on to make protection calls, Chevalier regained his starting spot at center and helped fortify an offensive line already without Keeney.
"That kid started 14 games last year, so obviously he's got that experience and then he's a fairly strong rascal," said Dorrel. "If you haven't looked at him, the kids give him a hard time because his biceps. He never wears sleeves. His shirts are always cut off so he matches up really good with a lot of nose tackles in this league."
By Joey Falkoff firstname.lastname@example.org
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Joey Falkoff email@example.com
Updated Oct. 2, 2012 @ 10:07 pm
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