ROCKINGHAM — The adage is defense is usually ahead of the offense during the early part of the season.
If that’s the case, then Brent Flowers, Diquon Cox and the rest of the Raiders are about post some eye-popping statistics offensively. The Raiders are currently averaging 564 yards and 51 points a game against a schedule which has included Myrtle Beach (S.C.), Vance and Jack Britt.
However, it’s the other side of the ball which has been leaving some room for improvement. Richmond is allowing nearly 400 yards of offense and 28.3 points a game to the opposition.
These numbers have Richmond defensive coordinator Mark Arthur hoping to tighten things up with defending 4AA state champion Butler coming to town tonight. However, Arthur is expected to be without two of his starting linebackers — Gus Chambers and John Taylor.
“I can speak for all the defensive coaches when I say, ‘We are all very frustrated,’” Arthur said. “We feel like we do some things better, then we give up a big run or a big pass.”
Even though the Raiders have been gashed for an average of 218 rushing yards a contest, including 227 last week in the win over Jack Britt, the defense has been able to stiffen in the red zone as well as force turnovers. Richmond has 10 takeovers in its four games, including five last week. Isaiah Brewington had two fumble recoveries, while Tyree Jamison and Shawn Everett each had an interception.
“They have done a better job handling adversity at times,” Arthur said. “Giving up a big play has been our biggest bugaboo. We haven’t been playing great, we have been playing OK. When we do the right thing and tackle, we can be some what effective.”
The up-and-down play of Richmond’s defense is similar to what Butler’s offense is experiencing right now with first-year quarterback Anthony Ratliff under center. The Bulldogs stormed out of the gates to score 80 points in a season-opening win against West Charlotte.
The following week, top-ranked Mallard Creek limited Butler to a touchdown in a 21-7 win. Ratliff and the Bulldogs rebounded to post 56 points versus Page, but in their latest contest, they failed to score until there were 19 seconds remaining in the third quarter in a 25-19 loss at Mount Tabor.
Despite the inconsistent play, Arthur believes the Bulldogs have the ability to put up big numbers if given the chance.
“Their running back (Benjamin Lemay) is good and their quarterback (Ratliff) can chuck it down the field,” Arthur said. “They will lineup in multiple formations. They will be in two tight ends one play and then spread you out the next play.
“They hit on some big plays early against Page. They tried to do the same things against Mount Tabor and they didn’t work.”
As Arthur works on keeping Butler’s offense grounded, Richmond coach Paul Hoggard spent time looking back at the three previous games against the Bulldogs.
“The first time we played them when I was the coach, we had a good offensive game plan and scored 31 points on them,” Hoggard said. “We punted once in the second half and it ended up costing us. They were scoring in something like three plays and we were scoring in 10 or 15.”
Hoggard added that reviewing the previous contests made him realize the key to beating Butler was patience on offense. He said Flowers and the rest of the offense needs to be content picking up chunks for four yards instead of trying for the big play on every down.
“Butler really understands our offense and is good at slowing it down,” Hoggard said. “We have to be patient, we can’t make mistakes and have second- or third-and-long. You can’t do that against really good teams.”
The Bulldogs will rely on University of Louisville commit linebacker Isaac Stewart and defensive lineman Jalen Cousar to try and stuff the Raiders offensive attack which scored 62 points last week. Flowers set a school mark for accounting for eight touchdowns against the Buccaneers, tying a record with six rushing scores and throwing for another two.
“They still have a lot of good players,” Hoggard said. “They’re college players aren’t seniors this year. Instead of having 12 Division I players, they may only have six this year. They’re still a very good team.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.