#32 Northern Arizona FCS Football 2019 Preview

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
Overall Rank: #32
#6 Big Sky
 Northern Arizona Logo
Northern Arizona suffered through a difficult, injury-prone 2018 campaign. New coach Chris Ball should bring the defensive intensity that this team needs. He spent the last three seasons as Memphis’ defensive coordinator and will add a much needed boost to the defense.
2018 Record: 4-6, 3-4
2018 Postseason: None
Coach: Chris Ball (0-0 at Northern Arizona, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Aaron Pflugrad
Defensive Coordinator: Jerry Partridge
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Joe Logan, RB, 437 yards
Passing: Case Cookus, QB, 265 yards
Receiving: Brandon Porter, WR, 325 yards
Tackles: Tristen Vance, LB, 73
Sacks: Aaron Andrews, DL, 4.0
Interceptions: Khalil Dorsey, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Chancellor Brewington, DL Carson Taylor, DL Chauntez Thomas, DL Jalen Goss, P DJ Arnson
Key Losses: RB Cory Young, QB Daniel Bridge-Gadd, WR Emmanuel Butler, Jake Casteel, S Kam’ron Johnson, S Wes Sutton, CB Maurice Davison
The offense should be in great shape with the return of oft-injured quarterback Case Cookus. Back in 2015, Cookus won the Jerry Rice Award given to the FCS’ best freshman. In that season he ranked second in the FCS in passing efficiency and passing touchdowns. In 2016, Cookus played in just four games before suffering a season ending injury. In 2017, he passed for 3,413 yards and 22 touchdowns. Last year the second game of the season saw Cookus injured again. If Cookus can stay healthy, this offense will be much, much better than they were a season ago. Losing Emmanuel Butler will hurt after he caught 35 passes for 676 yards and seven scores in 2018, but Brandon Porter and Chancellor Brewington are quality targets. NAU does have an experienced running back in Joe Logan, but expect the Lumberjacks to stick to the air most of the time.
The defense returns nine starters to a unit that ranked ninth in the Big Sky in total defense. By the numbers, NAU had a great pass defense. However, that was largely because the opposition did not need to bother doing anything but run the ball. This year the new staff will make some major changes and that should result in a big boost in production. Jalen Goss, Aaron Andrews and Chauntez Thomas are experienced linemen and linebacker Tristen Vance tallied 73 tackles in 2018. The return of Taylor Powell, who was one of the injury casualties of 2018, should help with the run defense.
The Bottom Line:
This NAU team is going to score. The key will be staying healthy and getting a boost defensively. Trips to Arizona and Illinois State will be tough non-conference games. Of course the Big Sky will difficult too. The Lumberjacks face three of the toughest teams in the conference, Montana State, Weber State and Eastern Washington, on the road. Even with a potent offense, reaching enough wins to make the playoffs will be very difficult.
Projected Postseason: None
2018 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 182.7 (45th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 201.9 (70, 9)
Total Offense: 384.6 (60, 9)
Scoring Offense: 25.8 (76, 9)
Rushing Defense: 202.7 (89, 7)
Pass Defense: 179.7 (14, 1)
Total Defense: 384.6 (60, 9)
Scoring Defense: 32.2 (84, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.40 (86, 11)
Sacks: 2.10 (53, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 1.90 (55, 7)
HERO Sports 2019 Recruit Rankings:
#67 Jhasi Wilson
#122 Jaden Tauanuu
#165 Terrell Hayward
#192 Clayton Ingram
#242 Matthew Horne
#260 Daego Albert