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Penza: Raiders' offensive evolution key to 4-0 start

The common factor whenever I heard about Southern Oregon University football before covering one of the Raiders’ games this season involved just how high octane their offense has been.

Big plays, big yardage totals, big point totals.

I heard it all.

But I also knew this: Southern Oregon had a star quarterback to replace. And not just one that was an All-American, but one that had just led the Raiders and their high-powered offense to the national semifinals.

Tanner Trosin set the bar so high that his eventual successor, redshirt sophomore Wyatt Hutchinson, would have to play out of his mind from the very beginning with very little collegiate experience to match the kind of numbers that quarterbacks of Raiders past have put up.

What offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht has done instead, however, is tailor his offense around Hutchinson’s skills rather than try and force him to`` do his best Trosin impersonation.

No, the Raiders aren’t throwing 40- or 50-yard bombs all the time like they have in previous seasons.

Efficiency, rather than home run after home run, is the name of SOU’s game right now.

Hutchinson isn’t putting up the yardage numbers that Trosin did during his time as the Raiders’ signal caller. Through Southern Oregon’s first four games, Hutchinson is averaging 161.5 passing yards per game, which ranks sixth in the Frontier Conference.

While the Raiders’ passing numbers are down from 2017 when Trosin was lighting just about every defense he faced on fire, their running game has been the biggest benefactor of the changing of the guard at quarterback.

Rey Vega averaged 59 yards a game as a junior last season.

In 2018, Vega has nearly doubled that, with his 100.8 yards per game average second in the conference.

As a whole, the Raiders are averaging over 232 yards on the ground this season, over 100 more yards than they did as they went 12-1 and ran the table through the Frontier Conference a year ago.

That’s obviously playing to their strengths.

And it’s showing the evolution of the offense with Hutchinson — who is second on the team in rushing (227 yards) — now under center.

The most important numbers that the Raiders care about, though: Hutchinson’s record as SOU’s starter is a perfect 4-0.

“I believe we’re always going to do what we need to do to be successful and use the skills that are around us,” Southern Oregon head coach Charlie Hall said last week. “I think Coach Foz has done a great job to put our team in position to make those plays. The things that really show up in terms of improvement — we were 56 percent third-down conversion and I think there was only one negative-yardage play (against Carroll College), there were no sacks. Those things, in the long run, really make a difference.

“When you’re a process-oriented team or company, when you look at that detail, the results show up as they do like with a 27-0 win. I take pride in the fact that we’ve done all those little things right and I think the big things take care of themselves.”

Hall is confident that Hutchinson’s ability to connect on more downfield throws will come in time. (Remember, his last significant in-game action before this season came three years as ago as a senior at Clackamas High School.)

No matter what, the Raiders have found a recipe that works on offense — and one that will get one of its biggest tests of the regular season this Saturday when SOU travels to Montana for the second time in the last three weeks to face No. 21-ranked Rocky Mountain.

The thing going for the Raiders is that it’s not only their quarterback that’s showing signs of progress as the 2018 season goes on. It’s their team as a whole.

And with more success comes more confidence for a team that has aspirations to get back to where it was a year ago — and beyond.

Having an offense that is ever-improving will go a good way in helping the Raiders achieve just that.

They just might not be hitting as many home runs along the way.

But hey, doubles are good, too.

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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