The last time the University of North Alabama football team took the field it was to face a high-flying aerial assault from Delta State that saw the Lions come out on the short end of a 37-34 decision. Now, coming off an open week, the Lions must focus on the complete opposite in a Shorter University squad that relies on a triple-option ground attack.
UNA, 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the Gulf South Conference, travels to Rome, Ga., to face the 0-4 Hawks at 12:30 (Central) Saturday in a key GSC battle for both squads.
"We know they are a well-coached team that plays hard and is a lot better than their record indicates," UNA head coach Bobby Wallace said. "From our end, we have lost two close games in a row and we want to get back out there and compete."
Shorter opened the season with a narrow 23-15 loss to Charleston Southern, then saw Mars Hill come from behind to down the Hawks 41-30. In its two GSC games, Shorter has lost 41-0 to Valdosta State and 31-14 to West Georgia.
After opening the season with a solid win over Miles College, the Lions have suffered back-to-back three-point losses in games where the Lions have squandered numerous opportunities in the kicking game.
Wallace said getting off to a fast start against Shorter will be key.
"With the type of option that they run, it is completely different than anything else we will face all year," Wallace said. "Miles and Jacksonville State tried to run the ball a lot and Delta State just basically threw it every down, but all three were operating out of spread passing formations. Shorter uses a spread option with the quarterback under center and it hits fast. Our coaches have a lot of experience with the option but it's hard for the players to simulate the speed in practice. Early in their games Shorter has gone to a type of hurry-up offense and has had success scoring early, but then as the defense catches up to the speed, they've been able to slow them down.
"That's concerning because our defense has given up big plays early in every game we've played so far this year so that is something we have to correct," Wallace added.
Wallace said having an off week to prepare for the Hawks option has been a plus.
Quarterback Eric Dodson triggers the Hawks' offensive attack. He is the team's second-leading rusher with 246 yards and he has thrown for another 512 and two scores. Shorter is averaging 203.8 yards rushing per game but just 14.7 points. The Hawks defense is allowing 405 total yards per game and 34.0 points.
In the only previous meeting between the two schools, UNA dominated Shorter 41-0 in 2012 in Florence, allowing the Hawks just 252 total yards and forcing four turnovers.
Shorter has been turnover prone this season, losing eight fumbles and throwing five interceptions in four games. UNA's defense did not produce a turnover in the first two games of the season but came up with four against Delta State, returning two interceptions for touchdowns.
For the season, UNA is averaging 32.3 points and 370.3 total yards per game. The Lions defense has been tough on the ground game but gave up 450 passing yards to Delta State and has allowed at least one touchdown pass of 50 yards or more in every game this season.
The only previous time that the Lions have played a football game in Rome, Ga., was against Carson-Newman in the 1998 season-opener. In his first game as head coach of the Lions, Bill Hyde led UNA to a 27-24 win on a late field goal.