Leader Blues

Friday, August 15, 2008

SPORTS>>Rhinos host Knights

Leader sportswriter

Tonight’s game against Clarksville at Red Devil Field will not only determine whether the Arkansas Rhinos remain above .500, it could well determine whether or not they reach postseason with only four games left on their schedule.

It is the first meeting of the season between the Knights and the Rhinos (2-2). The first game was scheduled at Clarksville on July 12, but severe storms in the area postponed that game. The Rhinos would have carried a 2-game winning streak into that contest last month. Instead, they will be coming into tonight’s 7 p.m. kickoff as losers of their last two.

The defense has carried much of the weight in the early season, while the offense has fought injury and inexperience. That has forced head coach Oscar Malone and staff to simplify the game plan.

“We cut off a majority of our traps,” Malone said. “Some of these guys, especially on the line, are new to what we’ve been doing, and learning it on the fly. We’re all starting to get on the same page, and they have been improving in practice. I think we’re going to be able to put the ball up more, and have better protection from our line.”

Guard Antone Lewis (6-1, 298) and tackle William Moss (6-2, 312) were the only two offensive linemen with any semi-pro experience coming into the season. The other four have been playing catch-up to Lewis and Moss in terms of learning the offense, and that has led to difficulty picking up defensive pressure at times, especially the blitz.

Clarksville will bring a familiar offensive package to town tonight, running a variation of the former Arkansas Razorback offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s ‘Wildhog’ formation, made famous by current Oakland Raider and former Razorback Darren McFadden. The scheme, which is a first cousin to the classic wishbone formation, is heavy on misdirection, and will be a new look for the Rhinos’ defense to contend with.

Focus on the offensive line over the past two weeks, along with Clarksville’s more conservative 4-3 zone defense, should give quarterback Jeremiah Crouch a break from the pressure he was under in a 19-12 loss to Nashville two weeks ago. Malone hopes to capital ize by hitting the Knights underneath and elsewhere.

“We’ve got to get through to the middle,” Malone said. “We can go with sweeps, even some deep routes. I’m a balance guy, even though I’m partial to the run, but we have to move the ball any way we can.”

Malone is also counting on kicker Garrett Morgan for generating points. Long field goals in excess of 50 yards are not a problem for the three-year Rhinos kicker, and Malone said he also has the proper speed and agility to use him for trick plays.

Morgan led the team in scoring in the Rhinos’ season-opening 34-7 win over the Memphis Blast.

At the end of the day, however, Malone still said that defense will be key.

“Our job offensively is simple – move the chains and put up points,” Malone said. “If we can generate 21 points, I feel like we can win the game.”

All students, including college students with student IDs, will get in for $3 for the first back-to-school bash/parents retro night. Parents are encouraged to dress as they did in high school.