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Previewing The Missouri Tigers’ 2011 Opponents: Western Illinois

2010 was a successful season for the Western Illinois Leathernecks in more ways than one. Head coach Mark Hendrickson orchestrated the best turnaround in school history as they went from a 1-10 record in 2009 to an 8-5 mark and a Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth in 2010, their first such appearance in seven years. It also marked the first time in FCS Division I history that a school had the runner-up finisher in each of the three major individual FCS awards.

Hendrickson finished second to Southeast Missouri’s Tony Samuel in the Eddie Robinson Award voting, the honor given annually to the top head coach in the country. Quarterback Matt Barr finished second to Stephen F. Austin’s Jeremy Moses in the voting for the Walter Payton Award, the most outstanding offensive player in the country. Last but not least, linebacker Kyle Glazier finished second to Eastern Washington’s J.C. Sherritt for the Buck Buchanan Award given annually to the nation’s most outstanding defensive player.

As for 2011, both Barr and Glazier have graduated and moved on, so Hendrickson and the Leathernecks have some big shoes to fill.

Offense
The Leathernecks return six starters from an offensive unit that led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring offense (32.5 ppg) and total offense (457.2 ypg) a year ago. While they must replace Barr and last year’s leading receiver Lito Senatus, they return their top two running backs, four of their top five receivers and three starters on the offensive line.

Junior quarterback Wil Lunt looks to get another shot at the starting gig after an underwhelming stint in 2009 when he started the final seven games after Barr went down with a season ending injury. Lunt threw for 994 yards and four touchdowns while throwing 12 interceptions and completing just 53% of his passes. He will try and fill the void left my Barr, who not only passed for 3,410 yards and 27 touchdowns, but also ran for 449 yards and seven touchdowns.  From a numbers standpoint, Lunt doesn’t seem to have the same type of dual-threat skillset as Barr did for the Leathernecks’ spread attack, but also didn’t have much help around him on a team that only won one game in 2009.

Lunt has the luxury of being able to hand off to the same two guys who accounted for 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago. Junior Caulton Ray and sophomore Bryce Flowers, both of whom were top ten rushers in the MVC a season ago, can help take a lot of the pressure off of their new quarterback if they are able to repeat or improve on their 2010 success.

A lot of that will depend on the guys up front. The Leathernecks essentially return three of six starters on the line from 2010. Tackles Matt Hulbert and Mike Lamphear and right guard Gary Sumlin depart but left guard Jimmy Holtschlag and center Jordan Valle return to anchor what should at least be an adequate offensive line. Enock Presendieu also saw some time at left tackle last year.

Senior wide receiver Terriun Crump returns and should take over as the new number one target after the departure of Senatus, who racked up 1,145 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010. Crump was second on the team with 888 yards and five touchdowns. Look for Flowers, who had 19 catches last year, to be a big part of the passing game out of the backfield as well. Other receivers expected to make bigger impacts will be juniors Justin Morgan and Charles Chestnut, who combined for 37 catches and two touchdowns in 2010.

Defense
One thing you should be able to count on from the 2011 Leathernecks defense is the secondary. They return all four starters from a season in which WIU ranked third in the MVC in passing efficiency defense (115.32). As for the front seven, junior defensive end Dwight Harris and senior rover Kevin Palermo are the only returning starters from 2010.

WIU returns a young but experienced secondary that will feature two junior safeties and two sophomore cornerbacks. Kieron James and Chris Boone will man the corners again while Ryan Davis and Keith Enderlein will provide help over the top. The group combined for three interceptions and 21 pass breakups last season.

Harris will look to provide leadership for an inexperienced defensive line that will most likely see senior nose tackle Nick Martinez and sophomore defensive end Ryan Demming added to the starting fold. Harris accounted for 30 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack in 2010. Demming provided the starting group with depth in 2010, notching 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Martinez made 12 tackles in a limited role.

Palermo is the leading returning tackler on the team as he welcomes three new starters to the linebacker corps. Junior Sam Power takes over for Glazier at the "leatherneck" position. Power recorded 23 tackles and three tackles for loss in the reserve role last season. Senior Mike Garoppolo will take over at the strongside linebacker spot while Palermo could make the move from rover to weakside linebacker as the Leathernecks have more experience at the rover position with junior Ryan Waldron and senior Tim Franken as potential candidates there.

Overview
It’s going to take quite a coaching job from Hendrickson if WIU is going to make another run at the playoffs. The offense, while it won’t be nearly as productive as 2010, should be able to move the ball consistently with a sound running game and at least some experience at the other positions.

In 2011, it’s going to come down to defense for the Leathernecks. While the secondary will be the strong point, the front seven is going to need to find a pass rush and be able to contain the run in order for the defensive backfield to be most successful. All signs are pointing to a step backwards in 2011 for WIU. Losing one of the top two players in the nation on one side of the ball is enough reason for concern. The Leathernecks will have to deal with that problem on both sides of the ball.