In order to get back to their winning ways, Head Coach Philip Montgomery needs better quarterback play after posting the programs worst passing numbers since 1995.
The combination of junior Chad President and sophomore Luke Skipper averaged 173.1 yards a game, 10th in the American Athletic Conference and 110th in the country, with six touchdowns to eight interceptions. Skipper looked strong towards the end of last season finishing with 1,141 yards and three touchdowns to four interceptions and is the likely starter. President, 921 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, battles redshirt freshman Seth Boomer and junior Will Hefley III for backup and will see time in running situations after finishing third with 480 yards and nine touchdowns.
While the passing game struggled the run game thrived. The duo of D’Angelo Brewer and Shamari Brooks, along with President, averaged 247.3 yards per game third in the conference and 14th in the country. Brewer, first team all-conference, departs but Brooks looks primed to pick up where he left off after running for 687 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman. Sophomore Corey Taylor II is back after running for 179 yards and four touchdowns before missing the last 10 games with an injury.
Whoever emerges at quarterback has a pair of solid receivers to throw to. Senior Justin Hobbs, second team all-conference, led in receptions, yards, and touchdowns with 55 for 830 and three. Junior Keenan Johnson is looking to build off a sophomore season that saw him post 44 receptions for 539 yards and one touchdown on 73 targets. Sophomore Josh Stewart rounds out the group after making 13 receptions for 162 yards. Senior tight end Chris Minter returns after scoring one touchdown.
The line returns three starters led by senior center Chandler Miller who earned second team all-conference honors. He is joined by seniors Tyler Bowling, second team all-conference, at guard and tackle Willie Wright. 6’5 325lbs redshirt sophomore Tiller Bucktrot takes over at guard opposite Bowling while junior Chris Ivy takes over at tackle opposite Wright. Depth is inexperienced with two freshmen listed as backups at both tackle and guard.
As bad as the pass offense was the defense was worse. They gave up 31 plays of at least 40 yards, worst in the country, and went from allowing 5.5 yards a play to 7.3 the worst increase in the country finishing with numbers like:
- Scoring: 37.5 points per game: 10th in AAC, 121st nationally.
- Rushing: 265 yards per game: 12th in AAC, 128th nationally.
- Passing: 263.9 yards per game: 6th in AAC, 112th nationally.
- Total: 528.9 yards per game: 11th in AAC, 128th nationally.
After posting 10 sacks a year ago Defensive Coordinator Bill Young must find a way to get to the passer. Sack leader end Jeremy Smith, six sacks, and second team all-conference departs along with end Jesse Brubaker who finished with 6.5 tackles for loss and one sack. The only returning starter is 310lbs junior tackle Shemarr Robinson who posted 15 tackles. Senior Myles Mouton, 9.5 tackles, takes over at one end while junior Trevis Gipson starts at the other spot. 330lbs sophomore Tyarise Stevenson gets the nod at nose tackle where he looks to use his size to impact the run game. Look for redshirt freshman Deven Lamp and Christian Bricker to see snaps at end.
The linebacking corps is in better shape with returning starters junior Diamon Cannon and Cooper Edmiston. Edmiston finished second in tackles with 80.5 while Cannon posted 44.5 including 4.5 for loss. Junior Robert Revels III, 17.5 tackles, takes over for departed Craig Suits. They also have to replace Petera Wilson Jr. who was second in sacks with three. Look for 6’4 250lbs redshirt freshman Zaven Collins to push for playing time.
Senior safety McKinley Whitfield, honorable all-conference, led in tackles with 113 total and leads a secondary returning two starters. Sophomore Malik Welch takes over for departed Kerwin Thomas at corner. He teams with returning starter junior Reggie Robinson who posted 35 tackles and nine pass breakups. Junior Manny Bunch posted 36 tackles and one interception before tearing an ACL returns at strong safety with senior Jordan Mitchell, also coming off a torn ACL, providing depth. Sophomore corners Allie Green and Akayleb Evans provide depth after being pressed into action as true freshmen.
Kicker Redford Jones, programs all-time leading scorer, departs turning the job over to senior walk-on Nathan Walker. Junior punter Thomas Bennett returns after placing third in the conference with an average of 42.3 yards a punt with 11 downed inside the 20-yard line.
While the schedule is challenging, especially in non-conference, the Golden Hurricane’s should improve in the win column but not by much. Non-conference road games against Texas and Arkansas and a home date against Arkansas State don’t do them any favors. Two of the first five games are on the road which is never good for a team trying to find their way. Montgomery bought himself some time with a 10 win season two years ago but if his team suffers through another 10 loss season he may find himself on the hot seat come next season.