As Northwest readies for a six-hour road trip Oct. 27 to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the focus is not on the Northeastern State Riverhawks but instead the Bearcats own improvement.
The Week 9 matchup will feature the MIAA-leading Bearcats (7-1) against the Riverhawks (0-8) who are searching for their first win since Week 9 of last season. On paper, the matchup is not close, as Northwest has won all eight meetings with Northeastern by an average of 37.6 points per game.
Coach Rich Wright is not focused on the numbers or the history between the two teams, but rather is taking this week to focus on putting together a full four quarters against the Riverhawks.
“(We) played pretty well against Lindenwood but still had some lapses at times,” Wright said. “We were up 31-7, gave up a field goal and then turned the ball over, and they put one in on us off the turnover.”
Against Lindenwood Oct. 20, the Bearcats fell one quarter short of what Wright considered a complete game. The 38-17 victory saw Northwest jump out to an early lead once again but were able to capitalize on more opportunities in the second half to put up 14 points in the third.
The scoring ceased in the fourth with Northwest gaining only 85 yards in the final quarter compared to more than 100 yard average of the first three quarters. For Wright, the offense is not the only unit in need of adjustments after the Lindenwood win.
“I was disappointed in the way our defense played last week,” Wright said. “I felt like, fundamentally, we did some things that weren’t good, so we are re-emphasizing fundamentals. After two weeks on options teams, to go back and play a spread style offense again was a little different.”
A team like the Riverhawks offer a chance to right the wrongs Wright saw against the Lions. Northeastern has struggled offensively ranking in the bottom 10 of Division II with 248.8 offensive yards per game.
A particular area the Bearcats will look to dominate is the ground game. They are allowing 79.9 rushing yards per game, the best mark in the MIAA. As good as Northwest has been stopping the run this year, Northeastern has been equally bad at producing rushing yards.
The Riverhawks rank last in the MIAA in rushing yards per game at 82 and are allowing 299.3 yards on the ground. Taking advantage of the Northeastern run defense will help to sustain offensive movement throughout all four quarters.
Northwest totes the fourth best rushing attack in the MIAA with 197 yards per game, powered by a deep running back position and a physical offensive play style. An area that helps allow the physical style of play calling is the special teams for Northwest who have been setting the Bearcats up in short fields often the last few games.
“Everytime we have a good return or punt return, every 10 yards we consider that a first down for the offense,” junior tight end Marcus Andrews said. “It (short fields) helps out a lot especially with the run game we have right now, our emphasis is getting four-plus (yards) on first down.”
Having all three areas (offense, defense and special teams) impact each other will play a crucial role in fulfilling the complete game the Bearcats are searching for against Northeastern.