HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs, with three teams being released each day from June 17 to July 28. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 1-4. Today, we present … Incarnate Word.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
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COACH: Eric Morris – At School: 2nd year (6-5 record), Overall: Same
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2018 (lost first round to Montana State)
2018 OFFENSE: 32.5 ppg. (25th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 34.1 ppg. (93rd in FCS)
KEY GAME: Nov. 2 vs. Nicholls State: This may not be a natural rivalry, but UIW wanted to get to this level — where it goes toe-to-toe with a Southland program that has consistently won, and Nicholls is one of those. Last year? UIW proved it could play with the big boys when it knocked off McNeese State and Sam Houston State and then wrapped the year with a win over Central Arkansas. The program has the guns to play like this again. Can it handle Nicholls at home?
SUM IT UP: That explosion you heard was the Incarnate Word offense last year. The Cardinals created one of the best storylines in the FCS in 2018. First-year head coach Eric Morris and his team took UIW from a 1-10 season in 2017 to its first postseason appearance and wins over three Southland powerhouses. They did it with a young quarterback (Jon Copeland) and tons of firepower.
The top two receivers have graduated, but there are still three proven targets for Copeland. The offensive line is completely intact and has good experience going back all the way to 2016. The nation's No. 4 passing attack is refueled nicely and should be set to be a tough beast to tame once again. In general, the thought that Morris would come from Texas Tech and turn this into an offensive juggernaut was true. This program went from 82nd in the FCS in scoring to 25th — in one year.
On the other side of the ball, the Cardinals are aiming for major improvement. The defense is never going to have to shutout its opponents for UIW to be successful, we know this. But this unit wants to bring its scoring average down from 34.1 per game to maybe eight to 10 points lower. If it can do that? This is a playoff team. Other things to improve on would be time of possession — which obviously is directly affected by all we've discussed above — and penalties. UIW lost 86 yards per game to penalties, so that's surely something the coaching staff wants to improve on.
OUR TAKE: Again, the Cardinals were one of the coolest stories in the FCS last year. Since beginning football in 2009, this program had never really been a factor in the Southland Conference championship picture — but that all changed last year. UIW handled the big boys in the league as if it had been perched at the top of the league all along. That confidence will carry over to this season, undoubtedly. The non-conference schedule holds two FBS teams (UTSA and New Mexico State) and the SWAC's Texas Southern. McNeese is the Southland program that has cycled off the schedule. The truth is, the Southland proved last year that it has more parity right now than it has had in a number of years. That won't make things easy for UIW, but this still looks like a winning program. The key will be on defense. How much will it improve, and if it improves a good bit? Then the Cardinals are back in the Southland title discussion.
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COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./OL Brandon Floores (1st Team All Southland Center)
THE FOUNDATION: Soph./QB Jon Copeland (2nd Team All Southland QB – 2,984 yds passing, 22 TDs); Sr./OL Terence Hickman (2nd Team All Southland OL); Sr./LB West Lambert (75 tacklers, 6.5 TFLs); Sr./LB Mar'kel Cooks (72 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 3 PBUs, 3 fumbles recovered); Sr./DB Louis Otis (42 tackles); Jr./DB Malick Phillips (20 tackles, 8 PBUs); Soph./RB Ameer King (460 yds rushing, 262 yards receiving); Sr./WR Lamont Johnson (35 catches, 444 yards, 5 TDs); Sr./WR Kam Williams (588 yds receiving, 3 TDs); Sr./QB Sean Brophy (558 yds passing, 3 TDs); Sr./OL Jeremy Jones (25 career starts going back to 2016).
TOP NEWCOMER: Fr./WR Deante Heaggans (Top 300 FCS signee in the HERO Sports Rankings this spring – 3 reported FBS offers).
COACH SAYS: "I thought the offense ran the ball well today. Our offensive line made some holes and the guys back there did a good job of finding them. We need to work a little more on our pass protection though. That will be a key for us in the last few practices of spring. It was fun to see the defense fly around out there. They didn't make any glaring mistakes. No busted coverages or anything like that. We made some contested plays down the field and that's always nice to see. I thought both sides had some bright spots, but we also still have plenty to get better at." — UIW head coach Eric Morris said after the spring game
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's UIW Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Southland
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast