#35 Northern Arizona FCS Football 2020 Preview

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
Overall Rank: #35
#6 Big Sky
 Northern Arizona Logo
Northern Arizona will be looking to improve during Coach Chris Ball’s second year leading the program. The Lumberjacks only won three games against Division I opponents, but there were some good things to take away from the 2019 campaign. NAU lost their last three games to average competition, but those three games were very close and the team really was not that far away from a 5-3 conference record. This time around those close losses could turn into close wins.
2019 Record: 4-8, 2-6
2019 Postseason: None
Coach: Chris Ball (4-8 at Northern Arizona, 4-8 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Aaron Pflugrad
Defensive Coordinator: Jerry Partridge
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: George Robinson, RB, 165 yards
Passing: Heath Beemiller, QB, 154 yards
Receiving: Brandon Porter, WR, 1,198 yards
Tackles: Anthony Sweeney, DB, 83
Sacks: Carson Taylor, DL, 5.5
Interceptions: 4 tied with 1
Other Key Returnees: WR Stacy Chukwumezie, WR Hendrix Johnson, LB Harrison Beemiller, LB Brooklyn Hardiman, K Luis Aguilar, P DJ Arnson
Key Losses: RB Joe Logan, QB Case Cookus, OL Cole Habib, DB Khalil Dorsey, LB Keenan Mitchell, DB Jalen Cook
Despite a little bit of momentum, Northern Arizona will have to find a way to replace Case Cookus. The quarterback finished his collegiate career by throwing for 4,114 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2019. Those are some big numbers. Redshirt sophomore Heath Beemiller was Cookus’ main backup last year and completed 8-of-15 passes in limited action. Senior Keondre Wudtee joins a slew of freshmen to compete with Beemiller for playing time. Brandon Porter, Stacy Chukwumezie and Hendrix Johnson will help ease in the new quarterback. Those three wideouts combined for an amazing 195 receptions for 2,989 yards and 23 touchdowns. The numbers may not be quite as gaudy without Cookus, but few teams in the FCS can match the proven trio of talent that the Lumberjacks have. Northern Arizona may have to look to the ground more often this year after leading the FCS in passing offense in 2019. They will have to do it without Joe Logan though and the hope is that sophomore George Robinson or one of the many freshmen can take advantage of the opposition honing in on the pass game.
Obviously this was a team that could score often, but the defense gave up way too many points. That will happen on a team with Cookus throwing the ball around so much. But that is not a good enough excuse to rank last or second to last in the Big Sky in every major statistical category. There are quite a few holes to fill though and this is a team that will have to see some overall improvement across the board on the defensive side of the ball. Carson Taylor is a decent pass rusher and Anthony Sweeney led the team with 83 tackles last season. Linebackers Harrison Beemiller and Brooklyn Hardiman are coming off strong 2019 seasons as well so there is a nice group to work around at every level of the defense.
The Bottom Line:
It seems likely that Northern Arizona will again be involved in a lot of shootouts. If they are going to end up on the right side of those, the new quarterback will have to be efficient and the defense will have to find a way to make some big plays when it matters the most. The Big Sky slate is never going to be easy, but Northern Arizona has the tools to at least make a move in the right direction.
Projected Postseason: None
2019 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 123.1 (94th in nation, 11th in conference)
Passing Offense: 361.0 (1, 1)
Total Offense: 484.1 (3, 2)
Scoring Offense: 37.2 (10, 2)
Rushing Defense: 215.3 (104, 12)
Pass Defense: 312.1 (122, 13)
Total Defense: 527.4 (123, 13)
Scoring Defense: 41.3 (122, 13)
Turnover Margin: 0.08 (52, 5)
Sacks: 1.67 (87, 9)
Sacks Allowed: 1.50 (24, 5)
Madness 2020 Recruit Rankings:
#138 Tye Kassen
#222 Andrei Mayberry
#298 Nehemiah Magalei