*Due to website server issues, we were unable to get a game story up after the UCM loss. I am sure you have have read plenty on how the game went and that the Griffons opened the season in a 0-1 hole following a 18-17 loss to the Mules. This column represents my takeaways from the game and what Thursday means for the rest of the season. This will be a weekly online piece that will come out every Sunday during the football season.
1.1 yards per carry
The much-hyped Griffon rushing attack managed only 1.1 yards per carry.
Raphael Spencer, 2014 first-team all-conference running back, ran for just 30 yards on 21 carries. That comes to a total of 1.4 yards per attempt for Spencer.
Last season, he ran for 4.6 yards per rush and averaged 102.4 yards a game.
Watching the game, however, it is hard to blame all of this disaster of a running game on the running backs. The offensive line, which has four returning starters from last year, was simply not opening holes for the backs.
The UCM defense loaded up to stop Spencer and their game plan was clear from the beginning.
They knew in order to slow down the Griffon attack, they needed to limit Spencer – and they more than executed their plan.
This sort of game plan is not new to the Griffons, as they saw it most of last season. In order to beat UCO in the home opener Saturday, they must handle it better.
Windmiller’s big day
Skyler Windmiller had a career day on Thursday.
His passing yards were the second highest total he had ever recorded. His attempts were also second on the list of all-time highs for Windmiller.
Windmiller’s stats were very impressive, and the Griffons will take 313 yards from him any day.
He was aided by the fact that the Mules were clearly stacking the box to stop the Griffon ground attack, and his receivers turned some high percentage passes into big plays with their legs. Most notably Brandynn Clark, who set a new career-high with 104 yards receiving.
Windmiller was sacked four times on Thursday and while the sophomore needs to get the ball out faster on some plays, so many of the offensive struggles can be traced back to the five guys up front.
If the Griffons can’t block better, it will be a long year for the offense no matter how talented Windmiller and Spencer are.
Dijuan Ussery and Clark allowed Western to start with great field position most of the night.
Ussery was a demon on kickoff returns, with three for 73 yards including a 42-yard run back to open the game.
The Mules began kicking away from Ussery as the game continued. This allowed some good field position for the Griffons as well.
Ussery is one of the players on offense that the Griffons need to continue to find ways to get the ball to. The JUCO-transfer has electric speed with the ball in his hands.
Clark continues to serve as a weapon in the punt return game. He managed a 16-yard return in Thursday’s contest.
Defense looks strong
The defense held the Mules to 300 yards total offense and under two yards-per-rush.
Normally, that would be enough for a victory, but on Thursday 18 points proved too much for the offense to match.
Corners Mike Jordan and Sam Brown were put one-on-one on the outside most of the night and even though each got burnt on a couple of instances late in the game, for the most part it worked and allowed safeties Donte Watkins and Jonathan Owen to lead the team in tackles by crashing the line of scrimmage.
The new safeties played well in coverage as well in their first career starts.
The defense was also great in the red zone. They forced field goals on all three defensive trips.
Ultimately, the defense will be remembered for giving up a 7-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a Garrett Fugate 27-yard pass to Kyle Echols that won the game, but the defense played very well overall and there is plenty to build on even in defeat.
UCO looms large
The Bronchos and Griffons face off Saturday at Craig Field in as close to a must-win scenario as you can have in Week Two of the season.
Central Oklahoma also dropped a one-point game on Thursday. They built a 20-0 lead in the second quarter, but eventually lost 30-29 on a Fort Hays State field goal as time expired.
Both teams entered the season with high goals and for either to drop to 0-2 when Pittsburg State and Northwest Missouri State are looming later in the season would be devastating.
The two programs face off in the opener for Craig Field at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
It will be a special day for the program as a whole regardless of the final score, but for the 2015 Griffons, Saturday represents possibly the most pivotal point in their season.