After a week where the offense looked to have new life, Portal heads on the road to get off the schnide against Savannah Country Day today.
Portal saw their offense, which has struggled mightily in the first half of 2016, actually moved the ball up and down the field with some form of consistency. As a matter of fact, Portal was ahead 14-7 in the first half against Wheeler County last week and driving down the field to make it 21-7 when once again the turnover bug struck again.
“It hasn’t been just interceptions or fumbles, its been muffs on punts and kickoffs too,” said head coach Matt Smith. “We’re still trying to drill repetition on catching kickoffs and ball security drills with backs and focus on concentration.”
Quarterback Jake Brown threw an interception that would be returned for a touchdown, then the following drive Portal gave up a field goal and within what felt like seconds the Panthers went down 17-14 before halftime. The second half is when the wheels fell off for Portal, where three more turnovers ensued and Wheeler added two more touchdowns late to end the game 30-14.
Portal’s defense, as usual, held up drive after drive despite never being in favorable field position. The unit has been their saving grace while the offense has yet to find a consistent identity.
However, with Brian Ware and Billy Drummer getting int he mix with Craig Ware last week the Portal rushing game might be improving in time before the toughest part of their schedule begins to shape up, starting this week with 3-1 Savannah Country Day.
“Their offense incorporates a lot of jet sweeps and QB runs, much like Auburn’s offense,” Smith said. “They’re very fundamentally sound and will wear you down before going to play action and throwing the ball over the top.”
SCD was shutout in week one by Stratford Academy, a strong 3-1 school who went to the semi-finals in 2015, but have since gone 3-0 to Lanier County, Johnson Savannah and Johnson County. Granted, Lanier and Johnson Savannah are a combined 5-9 but the +65 point differential shows the Hornets can put away bad teams when they need to.
However, it should be noted that the Johnson County game was a 9-7 win where Johnson County shutdown SCD’s running game to 3.1 yards a carry on 35 rushes. Even before that game, SCD was only averaging 4.6 yards a carry. It’s the backbone of the offense, but where SCD can hurt Portal in through the air.
SCD only throws on about 25 percent of their snaps, but when they do the Jackets make it count. Sophomore quarterback Cole Gambino throws for 8.2 yards an attempt and completes 60 percent of his passes. He can throw the ball deep and isn’t afraid to take shots, but it’s caused him to by slightly turnover prone with three interceptions in 50 pass attempts.
“As a staff we can get ahead ourselves sometimes but i think we’ve gotten better in our base defense,” Smith said. “But we have to worry about ourselves, we can’t worry about other teams now.”
SCD’s defense is perhaps the strength of the team, as they’ve only given up 12.8 points a game. They will present a sturdy challenge to Portal’s offense, which as mentioned earlier, has struggled to produce points this season.
It’s not as if Portal can’t move the ball either, it’s finishing drives and not turning the ball over that’s been the real issue for the Panthers. With quarterbacks Brown and Connor Washington both banged up, their will be more pressure on the Panthers running game to produce and keep the defense out of bad field position.
“We haven’t been good at getting off the field once we’re on defense,” Smith said. “But when we do get off the field, we get right back out there off offense. Its a consistency thing”
If Portal can just keep the ball out of the other team's’ hands, the offense can move the ball well enough and the defense has held well enough to compete with most class A teams. But preventing turnovers are easier said than done.