PORTAL — For a coach with a winless team, Cherard Freeman sounds pretty up beat and the crazy part is that, well, it’s not so crazy.
The Panthers (0-3) begin sub-region play Friday when they host powerful Johnson County at Panther field. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
Looking closer at the 34-15 loss to Claxton last week, Portal’s coach went back to the basics and back to the teaching of coaches he’s been close to over the years, including Georgia Tech head man Paul Johnson.
"When things aren’t going good, it usually isn’t because you aren’t doing the big things, it’s because you aren’t doing the little things," Freeman said.
Consider that in last week’s loss to Claxton, Portal allowed the Tigers to convert four times on fourth-down attempts. Three of those conversions led to scores for Claxton. When Portal attempted to go for a fourth down in the first quarter, on the other hand, the Panthers failed.
But going for it was the right call, Freeman insists.
"Those are the type of situations you have to put your kids in when you are trying to build up a football team," he said. "You send them out there and tell them you think they can do the job."
Considering that a 60-minute football game boils down, at least somewhat, to just four plays, Freeman said his team has to stop trying to "play a perfect game and start playing perfect snaps."
To that end, the coach spent much of his practice time focusing on how his players are supposed to come off the line of scrimmage and other fundamentals like tackling. The Panthers are going to hand the team’s fortunes over to the juniors and seniors, in large part, and the coach expects them to have a major impact.
A solid week of practice, he says, is what Portal needed. And got.
"We are 0-3 but we have made major changes," Freeman said. "We’re a lot stronger. Offensively, we have good yards per carry. Defensively, we’ve just got to get some stops."
The Panthers will get a test from Johnson County, who comes in with a perfect 3-0 record. They average 35 points per game and beat a AA school, East Laurens, 36-21, on September 3. Still, Johnson County allows 20 points per game and Portal quarterback Hunter Oglesby should be closer to his week one form after playing at about "65 or 70" percent last week, according to Portal’s coach.
One big blow suffered last week against Claxton was the loss of Nolan Clark on the line. Clark, the Panthers’ best offensive lineman, suffered an ACL injury. On a brighter side, Galvin Hagins filled in admirably for the Panthers.
Patience will continue to be the key as the Panthers adapt to the new offense, which looks familiar to fans of Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech and Navy. Freeman, who played in the offense under Johnson at GSU, knows the potential.
"You have to be patient on each snap and in the game," he said. "When that offense is clicking, it is hard to stop."
All the talk wasn’t on offense, though. With a team averaging five touchdowns a game coming to Portal, the Panthers have been thinking about defense this week.
"Defensively, our guys are going to come ready to play," Freeman said. "We’ve had that kind of week in practice."