#41 Northern Arizona FCS Football 2015 Preview

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks

Overall Rank: #41
#5 Big Sky

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It was an up and down season for Northern Arizona, unfortunately ending with a down. In early October, the Lumberjacks were sitting at 3-3 overall with a tough schedule ahead of them. They beat Cal Poly, but lost a non-conference game to South Dakota and a conference matchup at Northern Colorado. But after that, NAU reeled off four straight wins, including a thrilling 28-27 victory over Eastern Washington. Now 7-3, all looked well for a playoff berth. Presumably they just needed to beat North Dakota on the road or Southern Utah at home. Those two combined for just eight wins on the year. Unfortunately for NAU, two of the eight came again them at the end of the season.

2014 Record: 7-5, 5-3
2014 Postseason: None
Coach: Jerome Souers (100-93 at Northern Arizona, 100-93 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tim Plough
Defensive Coordinator: Andy Thompson

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Casey Jahn, RB, 824 yards
Passing: Kyren Poe, QB, 1,139 yards
Receiving: Alex Holmes, WR, 655 yards
Tackles: Eddie Horn, S, 88
Sacks: Siupeli Anau, DL, 2.5; Deon Young, DL, 2.5
Interceptions: Eddie Horn, S, 3; Marcus Alford, CB, 3

Other Key Returnees: RB Corbin Jountti, OL Eric Rodriguez, OL Leroy Guenther, S Darius Lewis

Key Losses: QB Chase Cartwright, WR Ify Umodu, TE Beau Gardner, OL Joe Gurski, LB Austin Hasquet, CB Blake Bailey

NAU wins games with their defense. Last year they ranked 17th in the FCS and first in the Big Sky in pass defense and that should again be the strength of this team. Cornerback Marcus Alford leads the unit and he is one of the best coverage men at this level. There are some questions at the other corner spot with the departure of Blake Bailey, but Coach Jerome Souers has some young talent to work with. Safeties Darius Lewis and Eddie Horn are both experienced seniors who are coming off of big years. Lewis totaled 75 tackles in 2014 and Horn led the squad with 88 tackles and added three interceptions. The middle of the defense will look different without Austin Hasquet. Josh Bamrick and Jake Thomas will be asked to play bigger roles. This is not a team that will attack the quarterback too much, but the line has done a pretty good job of getting into the backfield. Senior Siupeli Anau and sophomore Deon Young are the two to watch. Both need to help with the rush defense though.

The offense had some good outings, but was largely inconsistent. The ground game ranked 8th in the conference with 147.0 yards per contest. The good news is that running back Casey Jahn has a lot of potential. He rushed for 824 yards and four touchdowns as a junior. Jahn will need to get help from an offensive line that needs to get better even without Joe Gurski. Leroy Guenther and Eric Rodriguez are a good duo to build around at least. Quarterback Kyren Poe split time with Chase Cartwright last year. With Cartwright gone, this is now Poe’s team. He completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,139 yards and five touchdowns. His seven interceptions is something to work on and NAU had one of the worst turnover margins in the country. Alex Holmes will be the top target after catching 46 passes for 655 yards and three touchdowns. Jahn is a nice target out of the backfield, but new receivers and tight ends need to step up and give Poe targets downfield. A healthy R.J. Rickert, a tight end who earned some accolades throughout his career before missing 2014 with an injury, would help.

The Bottom Line:
A pretty brutal schedule could practically put an end to Northern Arizona’s playoff hopes before they begin. The season starts in a fun non-conference matchup against Stephen F. Austin. The battle of the Lumberjacks is in Nacogdoches, Texas and this is a good SFA team. After a home game against New Mexico Highlands, NAU hits the road for games against Arizona and Montana. That’s a tough Big Sky opener. And Montana State is up next. A 1-4 record at that point would not be a surprise. At that point NAU would have to win out to even have a chance at making the playoffs and that would mean winning at Eastern Washington on November 7th.

Projected Postseason: None

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 147.0 (80th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 272.5 (16, 5)
Total Offense: 419.5 (34, 7)
Scoring Offense: 26.3 (64, 7)
Rushing Defense: 212.9 (105, 11)
Pass Defense: 176.8 (17, 1)
Total Defense: 389.8 (66, 3)
Scoring Defense: 25.7 (53, 2)
Turnover Margin: -0.58 (103, 11)
Sacks: 1.75 (76, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 2.42 (82, 10)


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