It’s safe to say that Clint Conque’s tenure has not gone the way that Stephen F. Austin had envisioned.
Big things were expected from Conque after he was hired away from conference rival Central Arkansas following the 2013 college football season. While he took the Lumberjacks to the playoffs in his first year, he has failed to live up to expectations these last two seasons.
The pressure is on in 2017, but fortunately Conque has his most talented team yet.
2016 Stephen F. Austin Football Season In Review
The Lumberjacks started off last season fairly strong following an opening thumping at the hands of Texas Tech. The ‘Jacks won three straight games, including a come-from-behind victory against then-ranked McNeese State on the road. It appeared to be a sign that this team was ready to turn the corner. But then Sam Houston State turned SFA back into a pumpkin in the Battle of the Piney Woods.
The Bearkats absolutely torched the Lumberjacks through the air. Sam Houston State’s Jeremiah Briscoe threw for 438 yards and seven touchdowns in just three quarters of action in a 63-28 rout. Briscoe’s performance was just a sign of things to come for this defense.
No FCS team was worse defending the pass than Stephen F. Austin in 2016. The Lumberjacks ranked dead-last in the country, allowing 332.6 passing yards per game. The next-worst pass defense in the country allowed 301 yards through the air on average.
It was a shame that the defense was so bad because the offense was pretty respectable. The Lumberjacks averaged 438.1 total yards of offense per game and fielded a balanced attack.
The head coach’s son, Zach Conque, was the starting quarterback for most of the season and played competently. He completed under 50 percent of his passes but didn’t turn the ball over and was able to pick up tough yards on the ground.
Conque also had a solid go-to receiver in Tamrick Pace. He was a FCS Freshman All-American after racking up 836 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. It took him a few games to see the field, but once he did he was electric and had four 100-yard games against Southland Conference opponents.
2017 Stephen F. Austin Football Season Preview
Foster Sawyer looks set to be the quarterback for the Lumberjacks this season, and there is a lot of buzz about his arrival on campus. Sawyer is a transfer from TCU who played in 12 games over two seasons with the Horned Frogs. He isn’t extremely accurate, but he is a big body that likes to run the football. That matches up well with Conque’s preferences in a quarterback, so Sawyer should be quite productive.
He will have a plethora of options to work with at receiver. Pace should be even better as a sophomore, and opposing defenses won’t be able to double-team him due to the arrival of two other FBS transfers. Terian Goree was a starter for North Texas who left the team after being suspended late in 2016, while Frank Iheanacho was a three-year letterman for Texas A&M who failed to ever crack the starting rotation.
There’s no question that the area where the Lumberjacks need to improve more than any other is in the secondary. Conque parted ways with his former defensive coordinator and brought in Jeff Byrd from UT Martin to fix the issue.
Byrd’s defenses at UT Martin were known for forcing turnovers. UT Martin was tied for eighth in the nation in turnovers forced last season, getting opponents to surrender possession 28 times. Last season, UT Martin was 18th in the country in total defense, so Byrd should have a big impact on this unit.
2017 Stephen F. Austin Football Schedule
September 2: Stephen F. Austin at SMU
September 9: Stephen F. Austin vs. Southern Utah
September 16: Stephen F. Austin vs. Incarnate Word
September 23: Stephen F. Austin at Abilene Christian
September 30: Stephen F. Austin vs. McNeese State
October 7: Stephen F. Austin vs. Sam Houston State (in Houston)
October 14: Stephen F. Austin at Central Arkansas
October 21: Stephen F. Austin vs. Houston Baptist
October 28: Stephen F. Austin at Lamar
November 11: Stephen F. Austin vs. Nicholls State
November 18: Stephen F. Austin at Northwestern State
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
Once again, the big test for Stephen F. Austin will come against rival Sam Houston State. Not only are the Bearkats the best team in the conference, they are placed right dab in the middle of the schedule and in between two quality opponents as well.
It’s probably too much to expect a Lumberjacks win in that game, but signs of improvement at least are a must after last year’s blowout loss. If that doesn’t happen, this team could take a nosedive and get blown out on the road against Central Arkansas the following week. Remember that for FCS Pick ‘Em Contest purposes.