It was quite the plot twist for Sam Houston in 2019. The offense had its struggles as it battled quarterback injuries. But the defense, often a weak spot for the Bearkats, became its strength.
While the offense dropped its points per game average to 31.9 in 2019, the defense dropped its PPG allowed from 28.1 in 2018 to 17.8, and its rushing yards allowed from 208.5 to 69.9.
Head coach K.C. Keeler told our Brian McLaughlin at the 2019 Southland Conference Media Days that it’s been a point of emphasis to get more physical, especially on defense. SHSU couldn’t expect to outscore conference opponents 42-35 and then knock off a program like James Madison or North Dakota State in the playoffs.
The first order of business was the ability to stop the run. The Bearkats had three new names on the defensive line in 2019 that made a huge difference: Texas Tech transfer Joseph Wallace, true freshman Jevon Leon, and UTEP transfer Trace Mascorro. Those three helped SHSU have the top rushing defense in the FCS (69.9 YPG).
For the second year in a row, though, the Bearkats missed the playoffs due to lackluster offensive play.
This spring, with Eric Schmid healthy at QB and the addition of Howard transfer and 2019 HERO Sports preseason All-American WR Jequez Ezzard, the Bearkats are back to their explosive offensive ways. And with Wallace, Leon, and Mascorro back on the defensive line, the Bearkats now have their most balanced team since the 2011 and 2012 squads that reached the national championship game.
SHSU is 3-0 and ranked No. 5 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25. The Bearkats have the No. 1 scoring offense at 58.7 and the No. 33 scoring defense at 20.7. SHSU’s rushing defense is No. 10 (72.7), but its passing defense is No. 81 (278.0).
Schmid has thrown for 1,137 yards on 65-101 passing, 10 touchdowns, and three interceptions. He’s also rushed for four TDs. The Bearkats have the fourth-best passing offense, averaging 381.3 yards per game.
Due to most conferences not playing non-conference games, it’s hard to gauge how teams stack up against each other nationally. There’s no Big Sky/MVFC Challenge to see how UC Davis or Weber State compares to South Dakota State or North Dakota State, whether it’s head-to-head or common opponents. SHSU hasn’t played a team like North Dakota or an FBS opponent for us to get a better sense of just how good the Bearkats are.
We won’t know how SHSU stacks up against other powerhouse teams this spring until the playoffs hit. Can this more balanced version of SHSU compete with Tier 1 opponents late in the playoffs? We’ll see. But there’s no denying this, the Bearkats have fixed their defensive issues in conference play. And with a high-powered offense to match it, they are better positioned to return to Frisco now compared to the 2014-2017 teams that gave up a total of 217 points in their late-round playoff exits (semifinal, semifinal, quarterfinal, semifinal).