By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State will switch gears on defense only two games into the 2012 season. Rather than preparing for a balanced offensive attack — like the RiverHawks saw against Pittsburg State in Week 1, NSU will attempt to shut down Missouri Southern’s triple-option running game at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Led by Kellen Cox’s 89 yards on 20 rushes, Missouri Southern ran the ball 87.5 percent of the time (63 rushes; nine passes) in a 25-20 win over Central Oklahoma last week.
“Watching him compete, [we know] he’s a good football player,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said of Cox. “We’ll have to be sound against him.”
Missouri Southern also had eight other ball carriers to join in Cox’s rushing parade. Javonte Edwards and Gireese Forchu each had eight carries while Bryant Venson had six.
The Lions’ rushing attack is much like what the RiverHawks faced in a 49-41 victory over Harding in 2011. However, Evans doesn’t see Missouri Southern’s triple-option as quite as polished as Harding’s.
“Harding had been running it for a couple of years, and (Missouri Southern) is in its first year of implementing that system,” Evans said. “So they’re not up to the Harding speed. But at the same time, our guys should know of effective it can be if one person makes a mistake or misses a tackle.”
Shutting down the Lion’s triple option is all about assignment football, according to NSU linebacker Langston Jones.
“If you don’t do your assignment, it’s gonna hurt you,” said Jones, NSU’s leading tackler in 2011 who had eight tackles against Pitt State last week. “So we’re just working on our assignments.”
Life on the road
NSU embarks on a four-game stretch that includes three games away from Doc Wadley Stadium. Following this week’s game at Missouri Southern in Joplin, Mo., the RiverHawks will play against Washburn in Topeka, Kan., on Sept. 15.
NSU’s third road game of the four-game span will be at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo., on Sept. 29. Sandwiched in the middle is a home date with Emporia State on Sept. 22.
As for this week’s game at Missouri Southern, Evans said an important adjustment to make is just playing on the road in general. But after spending a portion of his coaching career in Joplin, Evans briefed his team on what to expect this weekend.
“They’ve got a big event planned, celebrating and bringing back their national championship team,” Evans said. “And I know all those guys from years I was at Missouri Southern.”
Special trip for Evans
Joplin will always hold a special place in Evans’ heart.
“My son was born in Joplin, and I lived there for 10 years when I coached at Missouri Southern,” Evans said. “I have a lot of friends that live in the area and are still a part of the program there.”
Evans nearly become Missouri Southern’s head coach during the offseason. In his fifth year now at NSU, Evans interviewed for the job before turning down the position in the middle of December.
Healthy as can be
Heading into Week 2, the RiverHawks will be at full strength against Missouri Southern.
“We’re in really good shape,” Evans said. “We have the normal bumps and bruises, and hopefully we’ll have everybody back to full speed this week.”