Bashore’s Beat: Pressure should rise for Lumberjacks
By Cody Bashore
The second half of the Lumberjacks’ season begins Saturday when the team takes the field against the University of North Dakota. After a week off, Northern Arizona University (NAU) moved higher in the polls to No. 16 in The Sports Network Top 25 and to No. 18 in the FCS Coaches Top 25.
Given the ranking and level of competition, NAU should be favored in every game going forward. This new challenge, being the hunted, begins immediately. North Dakota’s offense, currently ranked first in pass efficiency in the Big Sky Conference (BSC), presents a challenge for NAU’s number one ranked pass defense in the BSC. But the Lumberjacks’ rush attack presents issues of UND’s second worst rush defense in the conference. This battle of strengths with NAU presents a tough challenge heading out of the bye, but also a chance to further make a statement about this team.
While the offense gets the attention, as is nearly always the case, it’s the Lumberjack defense that has led the way during the four-game win streak and earning of a national ranking. With only 14 total points allowed the second halves of NAU’s four wins, the offense has had the luxury of taking care of the ball late without taking too many chances. This careful play calling has resulted in the Lumberjacks going 18 quarters without a turnover, the last coming in the second quarter of the ASU anomaly.
With the game plan and the schedule presenting the Lumberjacks with the opportunity to run the table, expectations have been raised and each game will only up the pressure to remain perfect. And if the Lumberjacks goal is to make the FCS playoffs, they can probably only afford to lose one conference game.
Over the past eight years, the BSC has generally sent two teams to the postseason. Now with the expanded conference, the chance for three to make it is a possibility. But the uneven scheduling prevents the Lumberjacks from facing No. 2 Montana State or No. 6 Eastern Washington, wins that would cement their place on the national stage. A loss to one of those schools would also be explainable for NAU, not crippling their post season dreams. But with the remaining schedule only including No. 15/14 Cal Poly in the way of ranked schools, a loss could be quite damaging to post-season hopes.
These past six games present a program changing opportunity for NAU, and the run begins immediately. An impressive win against UND could leave NAU looking at a showdown against Cal Poly for a playoff spot on the season’s final day in the Walkup Skydome.