For a defense that led the nation in sacks a year ago, No. 4-ranked Southern Oregon University’s 2018 season opener last Saturday against Eastern Oregon just seemed like more of the same.
It was a party in the backfield on more than just a few occasions for the Raiders, and it was the right kind of performance for a defense that wants to fly around just as much as anybody out there.
This afternoon’s 1 p.m. home opener at Raider Stadium may be against a winless College of Idaho team, but it provides it’s own unique challenges — namely the fact that SOU has had to prepare for two different quarterbacks with two very different skillsets.
Junior Darius-James Peterson is the dual-threat. Redshirt freshman Nathaniel Holcomb is much more of a pocket passer than a runner. And because Peterson missed C of I’s loss to Montana Tech last Saturday due to illness, the possibility of seeing both quarterbacks is very much a possibility.
Charlie Hall’s Raiders have prepared that way.
“In the two games College of Idaho has played, we’ve seen two different quarterbacks,” Hall said. “What game plan do we need to put in — we have Plan A and Plan B in terms of who we’re going to see. That in of itself puts a lot on your plate, and then we have to dial it up and be ready on Saturday.”
College of Idaho (0-2 overall, 0-2 Frontier Conference) — which is in the back half of a four-game stretch that has them on the road three times in the opening month of the season — has gone 70 years since recording its last win in Ashland, with SOU holding a 10-3 edge in the series that dates back to the late 1940s. (There was, of course, a 46-year gap between matchups following the 1968 season.)
The Yotes’ last win against the Raiders came in Idaho two years ago, with Peterson the star of the show, rushing for 228 yards in the game.
“Darius-James Peterson is their guy and is a really talented athlete. He’s a dual-threat and the threat of him running is really legitimate,” Hall said. “(Peterson) played the first game, took some shots against Eastern Oregon, played one play that I saw against Montana Tech and then they played (Holcomb), who’s more of a thrower. But again, it’s a freshman guy in a new system trying to figure it out.”
Any kind of end to SOU’s current streak of dominance over C of I would be a hit to the Raiders’ desire to keep the opening-week momentum going — with that “momentum” word being a key phrase for Hall and the rest of the coaching staff both this week during practice and in the build-up to the opener at Eastern Oregon.
Hall is well aware of just how desperate the Yotes will be to get their first win of the season this afternoon, acknowledging that three conference losses is usually the magic number to rule a team out of the Frontier title race as well as postseason contention.
“You’re going to get a College of Idaho team in here that’s certainly hungry for a win,” said Hall, who is a perfect 5-0 at home since taking over as the Raiders’ head coach. “They know (three losses would likely end their postseason hopes), their backs are against the wall early in the season and they need to start climbing out of that, so we’re going to get a pretty good shot from them.”
SOU (1-0, 1-0) was able to rally in the second half and beat Eastern Oregon 32-13 in its season opener last Saturday, one that saw new starting quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson settle in as the game went on after starting out completing just three of his first 12 passes.
The Raiders’ defense, which has eight starters back from last season’s 12-1 squad, finished with six sacks against EOU, with senior linebacker Devvon Gage returning a fumble 55 yards during SOU’s third-quarter blitz.
It was what proved to be Southern Oregon’s 11th straight win, with the Raiders unbeaten in the regular season in the Hall era.
And even though smoke has returned to the Rogue Valley, the Raiders are home. For a good amount of time, too.
“Being home feels good, being home after a win feels even better,” Hall said. “I think that’s the big thing coming out of last week — just to get that win, not out of the way, but just to validate the summer and the offseason, the fall camp, the uncertainty of getting affected by the smoke and things like that for practice. And now to come back for back-to-back weeks feels good, and our kids can stay on a fairly normal routine and take care of business.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.