There seemed to be a little conflicting info in regard to Nick Mullens' health and availability. What I am getting now is that Mullens sustained a pretty nasty concussion last week, and was not ready to go for ODU. Parker Adamson was also unavailable. The staff felt that Keon Howard was our best option going into the ODU game. Call it gamesmanship or keeping distractions to a minimum, but obviously Hopson and staff knew that Mullens would not be available for ODU. I know I thought Mullens would be ready to go. Live and learn I guess.
The Good- Keon Howard's inability to protect the football cost the Eagles big time. With that said, the young man showed tremendous poise in what was usually a crumbling pocket. Howard never seemed to get rattled and stood in the pocket as long as he could keeping his eyes down field when he knew he was going to get rocked. That kind of poise is very rare for a true freshman in his first college contest. He never came off scared or intimidated. He kept battling. I personally think he has a very bright future as the QB and leader of the USM offense.
Howard was 12-24 for 230 YDS and one TD through the air.. His only pick was not his fault. He showed a big arm, as well as a nice deep ball. His accuracy was also solid. Keon's threat as a runner created several big plays in the passing game. His ability to run brings a whole new element to the USM offense. Howard rushed 28 times for 159 yards. 61 of that total was negated on six sacks. Keon obviously has a ways to go in regard to pocket presence and feeling when to get rid of the football. These things should come with time. What impressed me is the courage he showed by staying in the packet and continuing to look down field. Most young quarterbacks with the ability to run will usually not stand in the pocket like he did. Especially with the constant pressure he was getting. ODU's defensive line was impressive last season. They are even more impressive this season. Several of those guys will be playing on Sunday in the future.
Howard really settled in during the third quarter keeping the Eagles in the game using both his arm and legs on three consecutive touchdowns drives of 73,82,and 93 yards. Our offense has rarely put together that kind of consistency this season. He got out of the pocket in the fourth quarter and found Ricard for a big 55 yard touchdown. Granted Keon Howard is very green and has much to learn, but from what I saw against the best defensive line in CUSA Keon Howard has impressive intangibles and appears to be ahead of the curve. Howard already posses some qualities you just can't teach. I think he has a very bright future ahead of him. It will be up to our staff to surround him with talent.
Marquise Ricard led all receivers hauling in three passes for 84 yards and a 55 yard touchdown. The stats were not mind blowing, but considering Isiah Jones would have a hard time catching a cold streaking through the North Pole, and the unavailability of DJ Thompson, Ricard's play was huge. He gave Howard a nice boost in the second half. Ricard was very impressive last Spring and appeared to be poised for a breakout type season. Here is hoping he can stay out of Hop's doghouse and provide another reliable receiving option for USM in the last two games.
I know every week I can pencil Ito Smith into the good section of this weekly article. Smith rushed 20 times for 99 yards and three touchdowns, creating a great deal of those yards on his own.
Sherrod Ruff started in place of Eli Parker and had a nice game, with five tackles and two tackles for loss. He really flew around Saturday and made plays. Darrian Yancey did not play Saturday for unknown reasons, which gave RSFr. Paxton Schrimsher a chance to show what he could do. Paxton played most of his snaps in the second half and provided the USM defense with a nice boost. Paxton held the edge well, as well as getting into the backfield to harass the quarterback and running backs alike. Schrimsher recorded three tackles and a tackle for loss in limited work. I personally think the hybrid Wolf DE-Backer spot really fits his skill set. Pax is easily 240 pounds. I could see him playing around 250-255 next season. At 6-3 he brings a little more length to the position as well. I really liked how he was never out of a play and always around the football.
The Bad- The offensive line had a hard time with the talented ODU defensive line. At times they provided Howard some time in the pocket, but not often enough to help a true freshman quarterback making his first start have a real chance to get comfortable. Howard was running for his life most of the night. The tackles really seemed to struggle with the ODU speed rush that led to a track meet to Howard in the pocket far to many times. Howard must be hyper vigilant with ball security. His inability to protect the football was obviously devastating.
Again our kickoff coverage was very poor. The biggest thing I see with these guys is they get blocked to easily. To soft to suit me.
The Ugly- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers!!!!!!!!! USM is now last in the NCAA in turnover ratio with -17. I have never seen a USM with turnover issues as bad as the 2016 team has had. It is absolutely devastating to the ball clubs chances to win. There is no way to overcome -17. If this team is simply breakeven with turnovers USM is 8-2 to 7-3. I know we have beat this stat to death all season. Seem snake bit with the turnovers.