No. 25 GWU gearing up for Point
It may come with notoriety but a national ranking also comes with a big target on your back.
For the first time since 2002, the Gardner-Webb University football team holds a national ranking (No. 25) after beating back-to-back nationally-ranked opponents in the last two weeks in Richmond and Wofford.
Now, the Runnin’ Bulldogs (3-1) will have to deal with the pressure of not letting down when they host Point (Ga.) University, an NAIA school based in Georgia.
“Right now, it [being ranked] doesn’t mean near as much unless we can get better and it will give us something to look forward to at the end of the season,” said GWU head coach Carroll McCray.
Getting better may start with getting the ball into the end zone.
Gardner-Webb is in the midst of a 12-quarter drought where they haven’t scored a touchdown. Instead, they have defeated two nationally-ranked teams on the foot of converted soccer player and fifth-year senior Jordan Day. In the last two games, Day has hit 5-of-7 field goals — including his first collegiate attempt against Richmond two weeks ago.
“The issue for us is to work on our fundamentals and improve,” McCray said. “It is mandatory that we are physical and we work on those things in all aspects of our game.”
Point will enter Spangler Stadium after suffering their first loss of the season.
Leading running back Rufus Mason was held to under 100 yards for the first time this season, garnering just 66 yards on 17 carries against Millsaps. Mason is fourth in the nation (NAIA) in rushing, averaging 180.3 yards per game on the ground.
Another interesting fact about Point is their usage of two quarterbacks. Against Millsaps Jeremy Uzee and Kier Houston combined for 16-of-21 for 213 yards a touchdown and an interception.
“They have a plan and they’ve executed it well through their first three games,” McCray said. “they run it well and hand off to a very talented running back.”
But, having a run game will play right into the hands of Gardner-Webb who is giving up just 117 yards per game and is ranked sixth nationally against teams facing third down, allowing 12-of-49 conversions. Overall, the Runnin’ Bulldog defense is 17th nationally and 22nd against the run.
Gardner-Webb will also attempt to improve its running game which has struggled of late despite sophomore running back Juanne Blount’s 105 yards-per-game average.
“We need to continue to work on running the football,” McCray said. “We have to be able to do that if we are going to continue to be successful.”
One thing the Runnin’ Bulldogs don’t want to happen is getting caught up in the rankings and overlook the Skyhawks.
A similar situation happened last year when No. 10 MidAmerica Nazarene — also an NAIA school — came to Boiling Springs and forced GWU to score in the last minute to preserve a win.
“They [Point] are going to do it the right way and they are solid and have a plan,” McCray said. “We better make sure we are ready to go and play well in front of our home crowd.”
GAME NOTES: Point enters the game with the sixth-best defense in NAIA and eighth against the pass … In their first two games, the Skyhawks scored 92 points … Gardner-Webb has won 15 straight games against NAIA and Division II opponents going back to 2000 … The Runnin’ Bulldogs have won five of their last six games at Spangler Stadium and snapped a six-game road losing streak last week with their win at Wofford … McCray has won eight of his last 10 games as a head coach going back to last season at North Greenville.