On the subject of radical upgrades, we find the Incarnate Word Cardinals? The Cardinals weren't playing football 5 years ago and now, today they're in the Southland. I'm going to venture to say that you won't find a more picturesque campus setting for football that the little spot the Cardinals occupy in north San Antonio. How will they ever compete in the good old SLC? Let's hit the books.
Questions that need answering...
Who is Trent Brittain?
Get to know him. Trent Brittain could be the missing piece in a competitive UIW squad. Brittain either tied or broke a total of seven single season school records including most attempts, completions, passing yards (1,893), passing touchdowns (11), passing yards per game (172.1), total offense (2,285) and total offense per game (207.7).
Brittain won't be asked to throw it around too much. The Cardinals will still rely on a run-first approach and a stable of backs that can carry the groceries. If anything Brittain's presence has given the Cardinals a steady, competitive hand at the quarterback position, something the Cardinals have been lacking in the program's history.
Plus, Brittain is only a sophomore so he'll have time to develop and grow into the position. Speaking of growth, Brittain's completion percentage will need to improve to match his game management ability if the Cardinals are truly going to take the next step.
Brittain played well this spring, cementing his spot as the signal caller for UIW. “He had great composure and he's hard to tackle,” Head Coach Larry Kennan said. “If they don't get him down quick, they've got a tough go because he can run and he can avoid people. He wins with his arm and his feet and now he's starting to win with his head because he's a lot more mature and a lot smarter than he was.”
Are the Cardinals ready to step-up?
The Cardinals went 6-5 in 2013, their first winning season. Second year coach Larry Kennan has brought a lifetime of experience at all levels including a Super Bowl title with the Oakland Raiders. Kennan has stabilized the program since taking over from Mike Santiago.
Plus Kennan wears a tie on the sidelines as should be constitutionally mandated.
"This team is way further along than we were at the end of the season last year," Kennan said. "Our schedule is going to be tougher, but we're way better."
Team speed was an area of concern that Kennan feels has improved, "One thing we wanted to do when I got here was get faster. We were an extremely slow team two years ago. We got a little faster last year and we recruited well. Now we have decent and, in some cases, real good team speed. We didn't have any way to make big plays because we didn't have anybody who could really run fast. Now we do."
Kennan also raved about the big plays that the new-found speed was able to yield in the Spring, "We've got some guys who can make great plays, and it makes it a lot easier to play offense when you can make great catches.”
Speed may not be the only issue, they'll need to get bigger and stronger up front as well. The Cardinals offensive line seems to be rounding out well, returning all five starters and all but one player off the 2013 two-deep roster. The Cardinals will need to see similar gains on the defensive front, where no starters return.
The Cardinals can hang their hat on a home win in November against new Southland member Abilene Christian, after getting blown out by the Wildcats in October. They can also remember the bitter pills of one-sided losses to SLC members Central Arkansas, Sam Houston, and Southeastern.
Who are those guys?
Broderick Reeves, So. RB 5-9 195, Mexia
Junior Sessions, So. RB 5-10 215, Mesquite
Reeves and Sessions made a big impression on campus as freshmen.
Reeves set a school record for rushing touchdowns and yards per carry at 6.7. He finished up with 676 rushing yards including a school record 244 against McMurry. Sessions finished with over 500 yards on the ground including a school record 84 yard score.
If we "beyond the stats" or some such and look at how UIW's dual back attack fared against their future Southland bretheren we aren't entirely disappointed. Reeves and Sessions laid an egg in their opener against Central Arkansas, combining for 27 yards on 11 carries. Against Sam they ran for 47 on 16 carries combined and Sessions found the end zone. They performed similarly below average against SELU. Now, against fellow newcomer ACU, the pair were pretty effective averaging 7 yards a pop in the early season loss to Wildcats while in the rematch Cardinal win Reeves posted 121 yards.
With a strong offensive line returning, the Cards should expect these early returns to expand and have an upward trajectory. The Cardinals averaged 182 yards rushing a game in 2013 as Kennan has tried to employ a balanced attack, equal parts rushing and passing.
The two headed monster was effective for the Cards and when you throw in Trent Brittain's rushing efforts, UIW was potent by ground. Reeves and Sessions will be big parts of that scheme in 2014.