Photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON-The postseason is fast approaching for the UMHB football team, who has weathered the storm of ASC play through nine weeks now, and still remains undefeated in league play.
But the work is not finished for the Crusaders, especially not with a road trip to Howard Payne set for Saturday. HPU is undoubtedly home to one of the league’s best offensive attacks, and the Yellow Jackets, with a 6-1 record in conference action, will not go down easily on their home field.
UMHB is coming off a bye week after having played eight consecutive weekends to open the season. The rest was certainly nice, but the Crusaders will be glad to get back into game preparation in anticipation of their final regular season road game of 2022.
“You just don’t like changes in routines,” UMHB head coach Larry Harmon said on Monday. “Friday was a different kind of Friday for us. Saturday was a different kind of Saturday.”
But it was only for a week. Because from this point on, until the national title game in mid-December, there will be no more open dates. The Crusaders will have the pedal to the metal for as long as they can, and all indications are saying they have plenty left in the tank.
Harmon spoke about the playoff preparation in his press conference on Monday, amongst a few other topics. Here are three takeaways from Harmon’s weekly meeting with the media.
A late bye week has its upsides and downsides
In each of the last two seasons, UMHB’s bye week has come in the month of October. In fact, a quick search back through the football record book reveals that this past week’s open date, on Oct. 29, is the latest it has ever been in program history.
There are pros and cons to this; some believe having a week without a game to prepare for late in the season is a good refresher and allows for nagging injuries to heal, while others worry a late bye might halt some of the previous momentum. Harmon was asked about his thoughts on the timing of this year’s open date.
“You don’t like bye weeks so late in the season, but this year, it did help us get a few guys some rest,” Harmon said in the opening minutes of the conference. “Hopefully they are better now than they would have been if we had played last week as far as health-wise.
“We got a good look at some young kids, and got some backup guys a lot of reps in practice that they normally don’t get. We tried to get a bunch of teaching done that way, of just what we do, to some of the guys who don’t get as many reps during the course of the week. All in all, I thought it was a good week.”
Looking at the Yellow Jackets
Howard Payne is 6-2 on the year, coming off its first loss in conference play a week ago at Hardin-Simmons. The Yellow Jackets led the eighth-ranked Cowboys 19-7 at halftime, before HSU roared back in the second half, shutting out the HPU defense for a 28-19 win.
Harmon was asked about his thoughts on HPU, and what has stuck out to him on film.
“Coach [Jason] Bachtel does a great job,” he noted. “They’ve improved their talent level offensively with some transfers at receiver. They have some guys who transferred in on the offensive line that helped them. They have their running back from the spring of ‘21 [Billy Reagins] back.”
Spreading the field and utilizing all of their options has made HPU one of the ASC’s most productive offenses, as the Yellow Jackets enter this Week 10 matchup as the only team in the conference averaging over 500 yards of offense per game (533.4).
“They do a great job of spreading the field,” Harmon noted.
Ultimately, Harmon believes the key for the Crusader defense on Saturday will come down to the number of “big plays”, or in other words, plays that gain large chunks of yardage, that HPU records.
“That’s what it’ll come down to this Saturday; can we eliminate big plays, and make them drive the ball. If we can prevent them from big plays, their drives kind of stall out and we’ll make them punt or they’ll go for it on fourth down.”
Learning playoff preparation from Fredenburg
If UMHB reaches the Stagg Bowl for the second straight season, that will mark the Cru’s 15th game of the fall. Between the bustling in-season schedule, and the level of competition UMHB faces throughout ASC play, it is liable to physically wear the team down. But through years of success in the postseason, former head coach Pete Fredenburg seemed to have gotten playoff preparation down to an art.
As the longtime defensive coordinator under Fredenburg, Harmon picked up on a few things when it comes to keeping the balance between staying fresh and working hard.
“We’re already talking about shortening some practice stuff, so you do a little more film work and a little less on the field stuff because you’re pretty much going to do what you [in the playoffs]. You have to tweak it to whoever you’re playing, but it’s not like you’re going to put in a whole new defense or concept. The same on offense. You know what your identity is.
“Something I learned from Coach Fred is you don’t back off very much. There’s a theory that the freshest team does the best in the playoffs, but there’s also the team that’s the toughest mentally.”