When you’re ranked as high as the Southern Oregon University football team currently is, aspirations aren’t just confined to starting the season off well.
To get to where the Raiders do want to go, though, second-year head coach Charlie Hall knows that taking care of business now will allow there to be the possibility of bigger things come the latter stages of the season.
Through four games, SOU isn’t just ranked third nationally, but sitting back during its bye week knowing its best two performances this season have come the last two Saturdays.
“Obviously we’re excited to be where we’re at right now at 4-0,” Hall said. “It’s a competitive conference where sometimes the other guys beat each other up, so that’s left us the only undefeated team in the conference. The stuff that we can really control, we can control what we can do and I feel good about where we’re at. I feel like we’ve really made some progress.”
Hall, like many, is a firm believer in the biggest progress a football team can make comes in the first two weeks of the season.
But for the Raiders (4-0 overall, 4-0 Frontier Conference), it has come in Week 3 and Week 4, with impressive wins over Montana Tech and Carroll College.
“I don’t think we made quite that big jump (in Week 2),” Hall said. “The jumps in improvement have really come these last couple of weeks, I think. That’s good to have going into the bye week.”
Defensively, the Raiders have flexed their muscle more and more as the month of September went on.
With their 27-0 win over Carroll, the Raiders recorded their first shutout in 15 years. And not only has SOU limited its last two opponents to a combined point total of 12, but also limited Carroll to all of 199 yards of total offense a week after the Saints had arguably their best offensive game of the season in a 32-14 win over Montana State-Northern.
“When you look at the emotional drain from a game like the Montana Tech game, the trip itself when you talk about getting on bus and traveling and sleeping over and traveling again and ending up in your destination with 34 hours of travel time, then having less 12 hours to recycle and play a game in a hostile environment, I feel like our players showed a competitive stamina,” Hall said. “That’s something we preach year-round. I think those things show up on game day when your backs are against the wall. Our kids are so competitive they don’t worry about that.”
The Raiders might not be the fun-and-gun offense that was putting up gaudy passing numbers like they were a year ago with quarterback Tanner Trosin — and that’s perfectly fine with Hall.
Trosin’s replacement, sophomore Wyatt Hutchinson, has gotten better as he’s gotten more starts under his belt, with the Carroll game being his best game in a Southern Oregon uniform.
Hutchinson went 15-of-21 for 194 and a pair of touchdowns — both of which were two of the longest passes he’s completed so far this season.
One of the most important numbers of all, Hutchinson has not thrown an interception the past two games.
“If you look at the offensive side of the ball with Wyatt really getting confident with what he’s doing, and if you watched the (Carroll) game critically, statistically he did a nice job and he was a couple of inches away from having some really big throws that would have pushed his passing numbers where some have been in the past,” Hall said. “Not that we’re trying to live up to what the past reputation has been like, but there’s definitely improvement on Wyatt in terms of his ability to connect with the receivers on deeper passes.”
Of course, with the bye week arriving, the Raiders were able to get some much-needed rest for some of their most beat up players.
Southern Oregon might not be a group of the walking wounded, per se, but coming off two incredibly physical games and knowing who’s laying there in waiting — a trip back to Montana to face No. 23-ranked Rocky Mountain — the Raiders are happy to kick their feet up this weekend and get some rest.
“Just right now, we’re focusing on getting ourselves healthier, going back and working on the fundamentals — and this week has allowed us to do that,” Hall said. “We can get a little extra start on Rocky, which I’m sure they’re doing with us as well, so we can hit the ground running next week after we come back from the weekend.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.