Psst... Here’s how Central, Tornadoes will win this week
By MIKE HUTCHENS, Messenger Sports Editor
While much is made of those who concoct and implement them for Friday nights, they’re usually only as good and effective as those players charged to carry out those tasks.
Expectations should be realistic. Teams with immobile quarterbacks and sans foot speed shouldn’t hang their hats on the run-and-shoot offense, and undersized defensive units need not be expected to succeed and excel while sitting back in vanilla schemes and/or coverages.
Though there are often new wrinkles unveiled each week by every team in their respective strategies, there are actually only a handful of big surprises pulled off in relevance to what the opposition is either expecting or has prepared for.
Most are usually point, counter-point, with the less the adjustment time, the less the effect of those “sneak attacks.”
There are rarely “spies” from the opposition — an accusation made recently in the professional and college games — and little can be accurately described as “classified” information.
All that said, much will surely be made of the method by which first-year Obion Central head coach Jason Driggers and Union City skipper Jimmy Fishel go about their business of planning for Friday’s 46th meeting on the gridiron of the two Obion County rivals.
It is a series that has recently taken a drastic turn toward the Rebels, who’ll be looking to win for a sixth straight time against the Tornadoes after UC had dominated the first 40 matchups with 35 victories and winning streaks of 11 and 13 games during that time.
In the last five seasons, though, Central has outscored Union City 156-56, including last year’s 46-7 shellacking of the Twisters, which represents the county’s largest-ever margin of victory against the city.
Careful not to betray the trust of either coach, nor the normal dialogue exchanged regularly between the two and this particular media member every week, the following is a must-do list for one or the other and keys to this year’s outcome.
Obion Central will win if:
(1) The Rebels get in the I-formation and run the football straight at Union City.
Teams have had great success doing so in the first four weeks, and McKenzie’s last two drives in a 21-point fourth quarter this past week were almost exclusively run-oriented — with star passer Derek Carr relegated to just a handoff man. Westview did it impressively and even Dresden had great success with marginal personnel at employing a similar such physical style.
It would behoove OC, too, to put Chase Clanton at tailback — if only for this game. Clanton’s scatback abilities were on similar display last season when he scored twice and gained 115 yards on just eight carries against the Twisters.
(2) They get off to a better start.
Central has been outscored 129-16 in the first halves of its first four outings and has regularly squandered scoring chances on the plus-side of midfield when games were still in doubt.
Admittedly against quality competition as all have been state-ranked foes, the Rebs have nonetheless caved in under an avalanche of points by the opposition while those game were still in doubt — giving up 82 in the second period alone.
With essentially what has been a one-dimensional offense to-date — and that a sporadic one with no game producing as many as 200 yards of total offense and just 23 pass completions and seven interceptions combined — coming from behind is not OC’s best suit.
The Rebs simply must avoid digging themselves a deep early hole like the ones that have seen them trail by 31, 19, 30 and 33 points, respectively, at halftime of their previous four games.
How ’bout maybe a trick play or an early-game gimmick to kick-start the offense?
(3) They bring the same intensity and emotion as they played with against Dyersburg.
The much-hyped first trip back to Troy of their former head coach, Darren Bowling, and all that went on before, during and after the game last week produced easily their best effort from start-to-finish of Driggers’ tenure.
Fewer breakdowns that were not related to athletic ability were the most noticeable improvement from the week before against Lone Oak when the second-half effort was questioned by many.
A similar such performance — without any letdown — is paramount if OC is to continue its recent mastery of the Tornadoes.
Union City will win if:
(1) It commits more defenders to the “box” than Obion Central can run-block
The Tornadoes’ inability to stop opponents from rushing the football has been evidenced in their first four games, as has been the unit’s poor tackling with already 85 missed tackles charged in official statistics kept.
Many of those whiffs can be attributed to fatigue and/or reaching and grabbing, but if UC creeps its secondary closer to the line of scrimmage as it did vs.
Dresden in the second half when it finally slowed down the Lions’ running game, the numbers alone will give the Twisters a greater likelihood of forcing the Rebels into throwing the ball.
Continued mixing and matching of odd- and even-man fronts should also aide the Union City defense, as should regular stunts from various angles.
(2) They take advantage of what appears to be a distinct advantage on special teams.
Easily the biggest mismatch on paper between the two, the Twisters have returned one kickoff for a touchdown and had a handful of others set up excellent scoring opportunities with Pat Polk and Kendrick Price both capable of going the distance.
Central, though, has struggled terribly with its coverage teams and defending in space in general, having given up five touchdowns in four games — three via punt returns and two more on kickoffs.
Will Arnold has proven himself with clutch field goals in the late-going each of the last two seasons, too, for UC, with distance being no real problem. On the flip side, the Rebels have been good on just one PAT in four games.
The threat of a fake on either side is alive and well and should be so noted.
(3) The Tornadoes get over the hurdle of simply being satisfied with moral victories.
While memories of the program’s glory days have faded somewhat in the light of struggles in four of the last five years, the expectations shouldn’t.
Playing perennially-tough Westview close for a half doesn’t count for anything, nor does taking state-ranked and Region 7-1A frontrunner McKenzie to the final minute.
Previously, UC teams before the Rebels’ most-recent run in the series expected to win and, seemingly, almost willed themselves to victory when the issue was in doubt. Confidence gained from winning a close game in dramatic comeback fashion against Dresden would be a better building block than any “might’ve, could’ve, should’ve.”
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.