We closed out the 2009 season with a fantastic matchup between Sioux Falls and Lindenwood. The two teams battled it out for the National Championship in Rome, Ga with Sioux Falls claiming the 25-22 victory. The two programs have started as the top two teams in the country and rightfully so. Some people are wondering if the Coo can repeat, while others have LU picked to win the title. Some folks are expressing interest in Carroll College and Saint Xavier as well. What if we had a repeat for the national championship this season? Would the same teams win? How do they match-up?
After watching both teams play one game in this young season, here is a position-by-position breakdown of No. 1 Sioux Falls vs No. 2 Lindenwood:
Sioux Falls lost a lot of talent at this position. They have some healthy fellas to fill in the vacated spots, but they haven’t come together just yet. The Coo offensive line was flagged for early movement multiple times against Northwestern. This is something they cannot continue to do against good teams. The front five looked a lot better in the second half after seeing the field in the first 30 minutes. This is a good offensive line and will open a lot of holes for the running backs. They will also need to give quarterback Jon Eastman plenty of time to make good decisions.
Lindenwood’s offensive line was not challenged as much in its opening game. However, they were very good against Evangel. The Lions, too, lost some good players from last year’s team at this position and must fill some big voids. They did a great job in game one opening holes for the backfield and giving Phil Staback ample time to throw the football. The line will be challenged more in the coming weeks, but they look good early and like a unit that can help lead this team back to Rome.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
This is a tough position to give an advantage too. Both teams have some solid guys on the field. Lindenwood has a receiver back this year that lead the team in touchdowns, with 12, last season in Matt Bramow. They also gained a transfer, Jamere Holland, from the University of Oregon. Holland is the deep threat the Lions lost last season. They also have a guy in Donald Fusilier who made one of the most unreal catches I have ever seen (while falling to his back in the end zone he kept the ball alive as it bounced off his right hand before hitting the turf. The ball bounced over his body to the left side where he managed to wrap the ball through his legs and grab it for the score). Andrew Helmick and Mike Bunton add to the depth for the Lions. Don’t forget about Matt Angell who is currently out with injury, but showed promise last season.
Jon Ryan has been one of the better wide receivers in the country. He had a fantastic year in 2009 (57 rec. 992yds 16TDs) and should have another big year this season. He is, no doubt, the go-to wide receiver for the Cougars. Alex Anderson is another tremendous threat for the Coo this year. He will be called upon to make some big plays throughout the season. Tony Benedetto adds to the mix as well, while Austin Vanhove is a deep threat tight ends a lot of team’s dream of having.
To reach an advantage, we will use the process of elimination. Holland and Ryan seem to be the deep threat wide receivers for the two teams. Anderson and Bramow are the guys to step up and make a big play when the team needs it. Benedetto is comparable to Helmick, but I’m not sure he has the talent of Fusilier. In the end, the Lindenwood Lions have the depth that gains them the advantage.
If you want even depth for a team at one position, this is it. The Lions had a big advantage at this position until two transfers showed up in Cougar uniforms. Sioux Falls has a talented back in Chevon Walker, who transferred in from Eastern Illinois (after beginning his career for Urban Meyer at Florida). He is very shifty and has a speed gear that is tough to catch. This is a versatile player for Coach Stugart and the Cougars. Walker blocked a punt the possession after scoring a touchdown. Jordan Taylor transferred to USF from Marshall. Taylor was called upon a lot when the team needed some tough yards. He is a big back that will provide a power running game for the Coo. Kris Porter was the starter and now may have fallen to the No. 3 option. Nonetheless, it will provide a 1-2-3 punch for USF. Arsenio Richardson is another option at running back. He looked solid as well. This team is loaded at running back.
Denodus O’Bryant is a name that some have heard of in the NAIA. He is a fantastic sophomore running back and will look for a solid 2010 season. Last season, as a freshman, he averaged nine yards a carry and scored once every five times he touched the pigskin. Nate Orlando figures to get a handful of carries after missing the 2009 season with an injury. Orlando was scheduled to be “the guy” for the Lions last year, but his injury opened the door for the young star, O’Bryant. LeMarien Parson was called upon a lot last season in short yardage situations. He is a big back that can make something happen. Dominick Sherman is a name some have not heard of, but may know it by the end of the year. If the Lions can continue to rotate fresh legs into the game then all four players have a chance to put up big numbers.
Philip Staback probably didn’t get as much credit last year as he deserved. He had a quietly successful season. While O’Bryant was running wild and turning heads, Staback dumped in 36 touchdown passes to set a school record. Another perk, he only threw three interceptions all of last season. He is a very smart player (not a bad trait for a quarterback) and protects the football. He also has the ability to put the football where only his guy can catch it. That is huge in the success of this team. If he can continue to play well, it will open up the running game for the Lions.
Jon Eastman transferred from Colorado State University. He started in one game last season for the Rams, the border war against Wyoming, and threw a pair of touchdown passes. He played in six total games last season for CSU. Now at Sioux Falls, Eastman looks like he will be a solid quarterback. As he continues to learn the offense and work with the rest of the offense, he will improve more and more. He has a strong arm and is accurate. After missing some guys down field, Eastman settled down to finish 19 of 29 passing in the game. One important trait Eastman possesses is that he knows how to win. In 2008 he led Snow College (Utah.) to the NJCAA National Championship game where they lost to Butler CC.
These two are dead even.
Both offenses have a chance to put up some big numbers this season. They have a lot of talent on the field. Lindenwood has the advantage of returning a lot of players off of last year’s team. The Cougars are missing some key components, Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Lowmiller, from last year’s squad. Lindenwood has a lot of depth at key positions that make them appear to be the better offensive unit. Sioux Falls looked its best in the second half of the opening game and looked very good. They will continue to improve as new players continue to learn the offense.
Both teams have the fellas up front that can get after it. Both teams have a defensive end that can be a difference maker and will make big plays this season. Brandon Koolstra is that guy for Sioux Falls, while Kellen Dreyer is the guy for the Lindenwood front three. Sean Santiago and Royce Culp add the experience needed for the Cougars. Derrick Clune and Keenan Mace will be important players for the LU defense to keep pressure off the linebackers. David Hanna is a solid player that adds depth for LU.
There is little doubt that if these two teams meet, the team with the purple helmet will have the best linebacker on the field. Dominic Studzinski is the bruising linebacker that swarms to the football. Every defensive coordinator in the country wants to have a guy like him on the team. Outside of Dom, it is a class of juniors to lead the defense for USF at this position. Nick Bonte, Brandon Anderson and Eric Anderson are solid. They will continue to improve all season, but already have a great senior leader in Studzinksi.
Parks Peterson led the Lions defense in tackles last year and could do the same in 2010. He is joined by a good group around him with Dan Carlisle, Chris Howard and Tony Ritzman. Tyler Epstein provides another option for the Lion defense. Howard is the bone-crushing hitter for the Lions. You don’t want to meet him in the open field. This group can cover a lot of ground.
Sioux Falls lost a guy last year that was pretty good. If I could remember his name I would….oh wait, it’s Trevor Holleman. This young man was a tremendous player that always found a way to the football. The Coo is still solid in the secondary with Dan Schmeichel, Joe Moen, Angelo Pree and Bret Jensen in starting roles. Adam Lopez and Dustin Bergmeier should see the field a lot this year as well. This team is pretty solid in the secondary and would have to be if they squared off against the Lions.
Hakim Thomas and Cody Fogle are very good in the secondary for the Lions. Both players will tally their share of tackles and big plays. They are joined by Damien James and Chris Springer. The Lions defense has not had a true test yet, but will soon. They need to be tested. I think Lindenwood has two players that can compete with any secondary in the country, but as a whole the unit is unproven.
The depth of the Cougars wins out early in the season.
USF lost the best defensive coordinator in the country after last season. They still have a ton of talented players that played for the former DC. Lindenwood has a pretty good defensive mind itself. They have some players that will make big plays when called upon. I think defense is tough to call in this matchup, but traditionally the Cougars have had the superior defense and they haven’t proved they won’t continue defensive domination this season. While I don’t think the Coo will be as dominate as they have in years past, I give them the slight edge in this matchup.
Lindenwood lost a solid kicker in Halley Ferrell. He was the kicker for a couple of years and now is being replaced by a one James Neal, who is unproven after game one. Neal kicked a lot of extra points, but never had the opportunity to kick a field goal. He will have his chances throughout the season to prove he can be a guy the Lions can lean on.
The other side is much different. Braden Wieking kicked a hundred PAT’s last season and returns for a sophomore campaign. He only missed four attempts (13-17) last season and was pretty good from long range. If the game came down to field goals, I would want Wieking kicking for me.
Denodus O’Bryant and Jamere Holland provide a duel threat for the Lions on kick returns. Both are speedsters with good field vision. You have to respect both players when they have the ball and can’t forget about the opportunity for a reverse. STAY IN YOUR LANES.
Sioux Falls was still trying out a few different players for the return game. Chevon Walker will likely see his share of opportunities and Kris Porter may spend some time back deep as well. I think the Cougars have some guys that can be good for the return game, but the Lions return men are good.
Both teams would show their strengths and weaknesses in this game. While I gave the advantage to the USF defense, I think the Lindenwood offense is really good and would find a way to score a handful of points. Sioux Falls would keep the game close early with a solid offensive attack and kicking game. This could be a game that comes down to the play of special teams. Overall I think the Lions are a better football team. The Cougars have been very dominant over the last few years, but the Lions are ready to be at the top.