By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
The old football adage goes that three things can happen when you throw the football, and two of them are bad.
So when Eastern New Mexico University sophomore J.J. Harp threw for an NCAA-record 78 attempts in Saturday’s opener at Colorado State-Pueblo, first-year Southwestern Oklahoma coach Dan Cocconauer wasn’t shocked by five interceptions.
“Something bad’s going to happen once in a while,” said Cocconauer, an SWOSU alum who took over the Bulldogs following more than two decades running Oklahoma high school squads.
As the Greyhounds head into Weatherford, Okla., for Saturday’s Lone Star Conference crossover tussle, the goal is to not repeat the seven-turnover performance fifth-year coach Mark Ribaudo said made the difference on a night the Hounds set team records for passing yards (513), completions (45) and passing attempts (78).
“We’ve got to make better decisions at quarterback,” Ribaudo said of Harp’s performance in the 28-23 setback. “He did a whole bunch of things right, and a few things not right. Those few things were big.”
For the Bulldogs, Cocconauer said, the key is to just not dig a hole. He said flat-out the biggest reason for Emporia State’s 42-15 win was that the Hornets were better.
But having only one returning offensive lineman hurt the Bulldogs early.
“I thought we played really well, (but) they jumped on us quick,” Cocconauer said. “We had the whole deer in the headlights look.”
Having coached just 80 miles east of SWOSU at Edmond’s Santa Fe High for the last eight years, Cocconauer said he had some familiarity with the roster and saw room for improvement before the position became available.
“Last year I watched the games,” he said. “There were times they played well and other times where they acted like the didn’t care. I just want them to know we have a chance to win every time we step on the field, no matter who it is.”
And to have a chance to win against the Greyhounds, the plan is to again make it a battle of turnovers. Meantime, Ribaudo wants to make it a game of explosives.
Ribaudo considers explosive plays to be passes of 15-plus yards and runs of 12-plus yards. The Hounds won that battle 9-6 against Colorado State-Pueblo, but none of them came from rushes as ENMU posted a net of 2 yards on the ground.
“Our run game still isn’t where it needs to be,” Ribaudo said. “But sometimes with this offense, that’s one of the last things to come around. We’re still working on that.”