“There’s a lot of commitment to what we’re trying to do. Everybody is on the same page,” Shorter head coach Phil Jones said as the Hawks take a 3-1 overall record and a 1-0 conference mark into their first showdown against a nationally-ranked foe this season. “But we knew we’ve got some big things to do to be in this game.”
Jones and the Hawks know that every facet of their game must be in sync from the moment the first kick-off takes place until the final second ticks off the scoreboard at DSU’s McCool Stadium where Shorter will be making its first appearance since becoming a GSC member.
After all, the Statesmen (4-0, 2-0) have what is arguably the most explosive offense in Division II, averaging nearly 59 points a game – the most in the nation – and roll up an average of 556 yards each time they step on to the field, with 389 of those yards coming via the pass.
“They play very, very fast and do it with a lot of reps,” Jones said about the wide-open spread offense the Statesmen use. “They do what they do well.”
Heading up that attack is sophomore quarterback Tyler Sullivan, who has already thrown for 1,416 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, having completed 103 of 155 passes with just three interceptions, and has rushed for three more touchdowns.
Providing Sullivan with a wealth of targets to throw to is a talented – and deep – corps of receivers led by 2013 All-GSC standout Casey Osborne, who has hauled in 30 passes for 492 yards and seven touchdowns.
He, however, is just the tip of a sharp receiving spear the Statesmen have as Jarvis York (18-165), Justin Leavy (13-289) and 2013 All-GSC pick Ricky Hunt (13-184) have been potent weapons.
Not to be overlooked by any means is Delta State’s run game, one that once the Statesmen get into the Red Zone powers the ball into the end zone when Statesmen runners D’Juan Bellaire, Eddie McCadney and Timothy Foy have combined to rush for 12 touchdowns.
Just how explosive the Statesmen became evident last week against GSC contender Florida Tech when, after holding a 23-20 halftime lead, DSU reeled off 31 unanswered points in the third quarter – they have outscored foes 80-0 in the period after halftime – and wound up claiming a 58-20 victory.
“They’re balanced offensively and can run as well as throw the ball,” Jones said about the Statesmen. “and their defense is very stout.
Defensively, DSU is giving up 18 points a game and while the team’s offense if having its way against opponents, the 377 yards – just 74 yards via the rush – the Statesmen give up each outing is good enough to help keep the team unbeaten.
Safety John Knox leads DSU’s defenders with 27 total tackles, while defensive ends Diego Lubin and Randall Boys have three sacks each this season.
Not surprisingly, the Hawks clearly understand that ball control and time of possession, two of the team’s trademarks since the program began 10 years ago, is the keystone to Shorter’s game plan – produce long scoring drives that keeps DSU’s offense off the field and keeps the Hawks’ defense fresh when they take the turf to thwart the Statesmen’s attack.
The Hawks were able to come up with that formula for the first time this season last week when Shorter won its GSC opener downing Mississippi College 27-14, a game in which the Hawks trailed at the half for the first time this year but turned in their best second-half performance thus far and held the ball for more than 38 minutes.
Shorter also ended that game with its best offensive outputs, rolling up a season-high 416 total yards with a season-best 365 yards on the ground.
Senior quarterback Eric Dodson leads the Hawks’ ground game that averages 250 yards having rushed for 289 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore fullback B.J. McCoy has added another 279 yards and three touchdowns.
But Shorter is getting more production from a growing list of slotbacks each week as senior Kirk Wilson and junior Devin Helvie have combined to rush for 245 yards, while a pair of freshmen had breakout efforts last week against Mississippi College, when Aaron Bryant – he started the season as the Hawks’ No. 3 quarterback – ran for 82 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown to earned GSC Freshman of the Week honors, and Frank Griffin ran for 61 yards.
The Hawks have also shown they can move the ball through the air as well as Dodson has thrown for 222 yards and four touchdowns, with the 16 completions he has had going to nine different receivers.
And while Shorter’s defense will be facing its toughest test of the year in the form of DSU’s passing machine, the Hawks enter the game having emerged as one of the top pass defenses in the nation as they lead the D2 ranks with 11 interceptions with junior safety Jordan Shaw leading the county with six picks.
Shaw also leads the team with 28 total tackles, freshman Jevaris Jones has a team-leading 23 solo stops this season along with 3.5 tackles for losses, two sacks and an interception, and sophomore Trevaris Horton has 4.5 sacks so far this year.
“I hope we have the opportunity to keep the ball as much as we can and run the clock,” Jones said, “but the big key for us is avoiding the turnovers and penalties. Against a very, very good team like Delta State, we have to play a complete game.”