Andrew Jackson at North Central
Coming off a 42-point loss, the last thing North Central probably wanted to see on its football schedule was a game with a team with which the Knights had no history.
With Andrew Jackson next up, there was no chance of NC loafing around and licking its wounds.
When Louis Clyburn and his staff returned to the practice field on Monday to put in the game plan for tonight’s invasion from the neighboring Volunteers, they were met by a team which was spry and ready to go.
Clyburn, whose team was dropped by Chesterfield, 62-20, last Friday, said playing an archrival after a game like that was just what the Knights need.
“Probably so,” he said of playing a rival this week being a good thing.
“We’ve had a good week of practice. Our coaches have been fired up in preparing for a different ballgame. You try to build that brick wall behind you and forget about that last ballgame and try to learn from those critical errors.”
The Volunteers will come to Knight Stadium seeking their first win of the season after opening with six losses. While NC is coming off a big setback, AJ has had its share of one-sided games this season having lost five games by 32 or more points including last week’s 48-7 non-conference home loss to Lamar.
If you look at David Moore’s team on paper, Clyburn said, you would think this might be another rout. But the NC boss said this is a game in which records mean little and he expects both teams to play as if a state title was on the line.
“On paper, they may not be a great team but is certainly a good football team when you break it down and look at their players,” Clyburn said.
“They have a really good quarterback in Kolby Whitley. I don’t think any coach who watches him play can sit back and say that the kid’s not a good player. He’s played since he was a freshman. He’s experienced and you cannot rattle him.”
The Vols have also added several players after having dressed out less than 30 at the Camden Shrine Club Jamboree in August. Included in that group is a 6-foot-4, 280-pound left tackle to protect Whitley’s blind side.
“You look at all the football games they’ve played,” Clyburn said of the AJ offense, “and when you have a great quarterback for their system, which they do, you always have a chance to score points and, ultimately, that’s what this game is all about.”
“Certainly, the things that they do well on offense, we have to be able to defend. It’s a catch-22; do you cover or, do you blitz? It’s going to be our job to mix things up to try and confuse the quarterback. But with his experience, it makes it tough.”
Defensively, the Volunteers have given up points in droves. Clyburn said, though, much of that can be attributed to a schedule which has included meetings with Lancaster and high-powered offensive attacks in McBee, Great Falls, Central and Lamar. The closest game which AJ has played was in a 43-33 loss to Buford, a game which Clyburn took in from the stands.
“Against Buford,” he said, “they had some early turnovers which gave Buford points. But then, (Whitley) brings AJ back in third quarter with three touchdowns and they’re back in the ballgame.
“They’ve made some adjustments defensively and have played better on that side of the ball. They’ve given up the big play but when you are playing an athletic team like Central or Lamar, you’re going to give up that big play if you don’t play it close to the vest.”
A year ago, in a one-point NC victory, the Volunteers stacked up the line of scrimmage in trying to take away the running game from the Knights. This time around, AJ will have to play much looser on defense against a North Central offense which has shown the ability to get yards and touchdowns in the passing lanes as well as on the ground.
Clyburn said his offense has to be able to keep the AJ defense honest with a blend of the air attack mixed in with the running of senior tailback William Jenkins.
“The team that gets the ball to the outside with the running game has been successful and that’s what we’re going to do,” Clyburn said of his dealings as a coach who has been on both sides of this rivalry.
“Central did a good job of running the ball between the tackles against AJ two weeks ago. (The Volunteers) gamble a little bit on defense. They have some run blitzes where they will send eight or nine guys at you. We have to prove to them that we can make a play on the outside.
“Hopefully, Antonio Parks, Hunter Wyant, Josh Flores and Cedrick Cunningham, our receiving corps, can make a play on the outside and make them defend the entire field because they’re not afraid to take a gamble and load the box, which they have done to us in the past, and force you to do something which you are not necessarily comfortable doing.”
Therein, Clyburn said, lies his team’s offensive game plan each week. It involves not focusing so much on the opposition as it does doing what the Knights do best.
“We have to focus on the things that we can control. Obviously, we didn’t control them in the first half of the Chesterfield game and that thing got out of control,” Clyburn said.
“If we do what we do well, which is run the football and have a conservative passing game, then we can keep the ball out of their offense’s hands. Possessing the ball, like we did against Buford, is this week’s game plan for the Volunteers.”