COLLEGE FOOTBALL: St. Francis’ ‘O’ line holding its own
BY DENNIS NELSON For Sun-Times Media October 17, 2013 9:52PM
Samie Sabbah is one of two returnees on the USF offensive line. Credit: Dennis Nelson
No. 20 St. Francis (4-2, 2-0)
vs. No. 4 St. Francis, Ind. (4-1, 1-0)
Kickoff: 4 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium, 3000 W. Jefferson St., Joliet, IL
Coaches: Joe Curry, St. Francis 10-7; Kevin Donley, St. Francis, Ind. 267-120-1.
Last Year: First meeting.
Saints preview: For the third time this season, USF will face an opponent for the first time in its history in the No. 4 Cougars. USF has lost its last six games against nationally-ranked opponents. However, USF has won its last two games, is 2-0 in games against first-time opponents this year and 2-1 at Memorial Stadium. Senior QB E.J. White ranks second in the NAIA in total offense and third in yards passing. USF is fourth in the nation in total offense and 10th in scoring. Junior WR Troy Torrence is the fifth-leading receiver in the NAIA. Senior RB Anthony Hubert has turned in back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts. “We have to show them who the better St. Francis is,” Hubert said. Senior WR Elliot Allen needs 40 yards on punt returns to become the Saints’ all-time leader in that category. Junior DEs Eric Davis and Jeff Cascella rank 12th in the NAIA in both sacks and tackles-for-loss.
Cougars preview: St. Francis, Ind. Coach Kevin Donley is the all-time winningest coach in NAIA football history with 267 victories. The Cougars boast the longest consecutive stretch of NAIA Top-25 Poll appearances with 174.
Next Week: USF hits the road, again, to face Marian, Indiana, at noon Saturday. St. Francis, Ind. hosts Robert Morris Saturday.
Updated: November 19, 2013 9:40AM
The University of St. Francis features one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. The Saints are fourth in the nation in total offense and 10th in scoring.
While the accolades and awards go to the skilled position players, and deservedly so, credit should also go to the offensive line.
Void of a senior, the Saints’ offensive line has been revamped and reloaded this season. It has also been hit by an injury.
Despite the hurdles, the No. 20 Saints (4-2, 2-0 in the MSFA Mideast) are averaging 38.7 points and more than 500 yards per game heading into Saturday’s 4 p.m. home tilt against No. 4 St. Francis, Ind. (4-1, 1-0).
Behind junior left tackle Shane Laga (6-foot-5, 260 pounds), sophomore left guard Zack Webster (6-2, 295), freshman center Fred Mitchell (6-2, 265), junior right guard Samie Sabbah of Bolingbrook (6-0, 300) and sophomore right tackle and Minooka grad Kenny Smith (6-1, 280) the Saints are averaging 6.7 yards per play.
“Our message to our O-line is we pound the rock and wear people out and we’ve done that this year,” Saints head coach Joe Curry said. “We have to stick with our running game to set up our passing game. That’s what our offensive philosophy is.”
“I love our offensive line,” said senior quarterback E.J. White, who is second in the nation in total offense (2,424 yards) and third in passing yards per game (350.5). “They are all young and inexperienced, but they want to learn. They are there early at practice, they like to watch film and understand the defenses we’re seeing.”
Webster and Sabbah were starters on the offensive line a year ago, while Mitchell replaced injured senior Doug Spacht after two games.
“Our center is an 18-year-old kid going against grown men and done a great job,” White said of Mitchell, who has started the last four games. “For him to come up here and do the job he’s doing is phenomenal. Our whole offensive line has done a great job this year.”
“Each week, we see a progression,” assistant coach Matt McCarthy said. “They are keeping E.J. clean back there and you are starting to see maturity in our run game. They are starting to be real efficient up front.”
Senior running back Anthony Hubert is coming off back-to-back, 100-yard games. As a team, the Saints average 4.4 yards per rush.
“Every game, every practice, every snap, our offensive line is getting better and better,” Hubert said.
USF has allowed just six sacks in six games.
“We do a lot of different things on offense and our line does a great job communicating and deciphering what the defense is doing,” McCarthy said. “We hope to continue to grow our run game and be able to use it whenever we want to use it and then strike with some big pass plays.”