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Raiders seek end to post-bye week struggles

For a team that has postseason aspirations and eyes on another deep playoff run, the Southern Oregon football team has essentially entered do-or-die mode.

That’s not something the No. 14-ranked Raiders wanted to say in the middle of October.

But it’s now the reality they now face.

For the first time since Charlie Hall took over the program, No.14-ranked Southern Oregon has a losing streak — one the Raiders will try to snap when they face The College of Idaho at noon Pacific Time in a crucial matchup with both Frontier Conference title and postseason implications looming large.

“The bottom line is just accountability to the process,” Hall said. “I think winning is a habit and things happen for a reason when it clicks. Losing is a habit as well. We’re just in this rut of sorts about making mistakes — one guy creating a critical that causes the whole play to not go the way it should be on offense or defense.

“We just have to stay with the plan, stay with the people doing the things that we’re doing. We’ve got a lot invested in the process and we just need to get better.”

Hall has always been one to point out earlier this season that a team SOU is facing that has two losses is one that has its back up against the wall.

Now, with two consecutive losses, the Raiders (4-2 overall, 4-2 Frontier) — who have dropped 12 spots in the national rankings in the last two weeks — find themselves in the same situation.

It won’t mean a change at quarterback, though.

Wyatt Hutchinson, who was replaced in the fourth quarter by backup QB Chase Knutz in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 27-17 loss to Eastern Oregon, will remain the Raiders’ QB1 despite SOU’s recent struggles on offense.

Hutchinson has gotten the vote of confidence from offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht.

Hutchinson has gotten the vote of confidence from Hall as well.

The Raiders losing back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two years isn’t going to cause a knee-jerk reaction from either Fasnacht nor Hall, with the decision to turn to Knutz late in the game being described as SOU looking for some kind of spark offensively rather than a changing of the guard under center.

“He’s good to go. There’s no doubt he’s going to play on Saturday,” Hall said of Hutchinson. “He’s had a good week of practice. He was back at it on Monday doing his work and he’s driven to be a great player and the player that leads this offense. From a mindset standpoint, I think that he’s as focused of a player that we have on our team right now. To me, there’s no controversy, no competition at this point. It’s still ‘Wyatt is our guy.’”

As much as the quarterback question has been a talking point since SOU’s loss to Eastern Oregon last Saturday at Raider Stadium, getting the offense to resemble what it was doing before the bye week arrived earlier this month.

The Raiders’ run game that was so good in the opening four games has totaled all of 107 yards in the last two games combined.

Before the bye week, SOU was averaging 232 yards on the ground.

Rocky Mountain and Eastern Oregon have set out to take the run away from Southern Oregon — and delivered.

“They’ve taken that away and saying ‘If we’re going to lose, you’re going to need to throw your way out of some tough situations and we’re not going to let you run the ball as easily as you once did,’” Hall said. “We just have to get better in those aspects — whether it’s the passing game, the screen game or things that are typical man beaters and blitz beaters. If we can do that and get people out of those because we’ve made them pay, then that could and should open up the running game.”

Of course, when SOU was 4-0 and sitting pretty amongst the top-ranked teams in the country, it was the same College of Idaho team that nearly pulled the early-season upset at Raider Stadium last month.

Behind the dynamic play of quarterback Darius-James Peterson, the Yotes (2-5, 2-4) certainly made the Raiders sweat in SOU’s 35-28 win on Sept. 8.

Described as a “one-man wrecking crew” by Hall, Peterson is ranked sixth in the Frontier Conference with 204.7 yards of total offense per game.

So as much as the Raiders’ minds are on getting their current rough patch over and done with, there’s no forgetting that the Yotes nearly handed them a loss only a few weeks ago.

“They’re on a roll,” Hall said of College of Idaho. “They were 0-5 at one time and we’re kind of going in two different directions. They, unlike us, don’t have any opportunities for the postseason. We still have that opportunity, and I hate to hang on that because our team needs to focus more on the process rather than what’s at the other end. It’s the journey, not necessarily the destination, that we need to get to.”

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

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