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Monday Blog: Five takeaways from APSU Football opener

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Let’s be honest…

Saturday’s 63-0 thumping against Memphis was brutal. It was a beatdown. And frankly, it was hard to watch. If you attended the Liberty Bowl and stayed for the entire duration, this week’s blog post is dedicated to you.

But the loss by APSU wasn’t the worst in the country, with Texas State defeating Arkansas-Pine Bluff 65-0. That’s a positive, I guess, though we still feel your pain, Golden Lions.

Here are five takeaways from my trip to Memphis.

Front six too reliant on secondary

When the leading tacklers on the team are two players from the secondary, it’s clear the linemen up front aren’t getting a push.

That was the case on Saturday as Damien Whitfield and Johnathan Shuler recorded nine tackles each as the Memphis ball carriers were able to get past the front six and into the secondary. When running a 4-2-5 formation on defense, the secondary will be forced to step up on occasion, but better play is certainly needed out of the true run stoppers.

The Tigers’ offensive line held a significant advantage of the APSU defensive line, and the linebackers didn’t make an impact as Memphis racked up 303 yards on the ground.

“Several times defensively in the first half I thought we had some third down possessions that we almost got off the field,” head coach Kirby Cannon said. “They (Memphis) did a good job mixing it up. We really couldn’t get a handle on whether they were going to run it inside, outside, or some type of option play.”

Antonio Turner and Adam Noble started at linebacker, along with A.J. Gray mixing in, but Cannon has discovered even more competition at that position. Zach Stuart was third on the team in tackles with six, while freshman Benedict Louis came in and made five stops. Cannon thought both played far better than the starters, so there will be some shake ups there as the season progresses.

Aside from Whitfield and Shuler, cornerback Roderick Owens played well, making the biggest play on defense. Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch rolled right looking for a receiver on a post pattern, but the sophomore jumped the route and made a nice play on the ball.

“I think our secondary will be fine,” Cannon said. “The interception by Owens was a great play. I thought our defense was pretty good. We let one guy get loose on a wheel route and that can happen to anybody, but we’ll get that fixed too.”

Crucial mental mistakes

Something else that needs to be cleaned up doesn’t even need a football to fix.

It all starts between the ears of players.

Obviously, it was the first game for a very young team, but there were several mistakes that are just inexcusable. It all started at the opening kickoff, with Evan Toby booting the ball out of bounds to put the Tigers in excellent field position. Once Memphis drove down and easily scored, it put the pressure on the Trey Taylor and the offense, and was very shaky because of it.

“We just have to get off to a better start,” Cannon said. “You can’t kick the first kickoff out of bounds and let them start on the 40-yard line. You can’t throw a lazy pass out in the flat and let it get intercepted. Those things will just wear your defense down.”

The defense was certainly worn down, with about 55 plays coming from them in the first half alone. The mistakes became contagious, beginning on a Memphis field goal attempt in the first half. APSU stopped the Tigers on third down for the first time, but as Memphis kicked a field goal, the Govs were ruled offside, giving their opponent a gimme first down. So, instead of three points, the Tigers were able to get a touchdown a few plays later to make things even worse.

Mistakes are going to happen; however, the key is to be smart in times like this. It may not have cost them the game, but down the road, something like this could come back to hurt the Govs.

Roberson very explosive at running back

On the offensive side of the ball, you have to start with Justin Roberson if you’re looking for a positive.

When Rashaan Coleman couldn’t get anything going up the middle, Roberson came in to provide some spark, and found room off tackle for several nice runs. The sophomore finished with 50 yards on eight carries, and is going to be a factor in the backfield moving forward.

“I’ve always been a fan of Roberson,” Cannon said. “He’s one of those guys that is very explosive. He’s also strong enough now that he just doesn’t go down with a sneeze. Over the course of this season, he’s going to have some long runs.”

His longest run against Memphis went for 21 yards, so he’s just getting started as a running back. Last season, Roberson played defensive back, so Saturday was his first game action on offense since high school. It took a lot of mental preparation, he said, but it was an easy switch after he hit the ground running.

Boone threatens with scrambling element

Despite Taylor getting the start at quarterback, freshman Darrien Boone earned himself some playing time as well following a good camp.

On Saturday, Boone outplayed Taylor, but don’t look at the passing numbers as only 30 yards were compiled from the two. Instead, go straight to rushing and you’ll find Boone listed as the team’s second-leading rusher.

Boone provides an element Taylor can’t, which is scrambling out of the pocket to pick up yardage. At one point in the game, it looked like Boone was a running back as he received a snap and took off on his own. The play resulted in 39 yards, the longest play for APSU.

It’s been a learning process for Boone considering he hasn’t played since his junior year of high school, and Cannon said he definitely saw the jitters. As the rain fell, Boone dropped back to pass, but the ball slipped out of hand and fell for a Memphis player to easily pick up. However, that mistake can happen to anyone, and Boone kind of laughed it off as he talked to me afterward.

“The rain affected it a lot,” Boone said. “With the passing, and even in the run game, it affected it a lot. The ball was slippery and it was something we should have been used to, considering we’ve practiced in the rain a few days.”

Coach Cannon said it’s unknown on the quarterback situation moving forward, and will look at each did against certain defensive packages on film. I would expect Taylor to get another chance to start in two weeks, but Boone is definitely going to be a playmaker moving forward with his ability to run.

Bye week couldn’t come at a better time

Typically, teams prefer their bye week to be later in the season during conference play, but in this case, a break in week two is perfect for the Govs.

APSU won’t play again until Sept. 13, which is the home opener at new Governors Stadium as Chattanooga comes to Clarksville.

This will give guys like freshman wide receiver LaRon Golden, who didn’t play on Saturday, to heal up from a hamstring injury. It also gives Cannon and his staff to evaluate performances of back ups, and determine if significant changes should be made.

“We were always looking at that bye week, going against Memphis and play as many guys as we could,” he said. “We’re going to know a lot more about this team after tonight and that bye week couldn’t come at a better time, I think, considering how many freshmen we have.”

Photo by Corey Adams/The All State

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