Open date should help Southeast get ready for next challenge- E

Sunday, October 10, 2004

An open date probably couldn't have come at a better time for Southeast Missouri State University's football team.

The injury-riddled, struggling Indians needed the time off from actual competition to heal their aching bodies and also to try to regain their confidence -- a trait that right now has to be shaky at best.

It's not just that Southeast is 1-4 overall and 1-1 in Ohio Valley Conference play. That in itself wouldn't be so bad, particularly the OVC record, especially since -- as I wrote several weeks ago -- most people expected Southeast to start out 0-3 after facing a brutal non-league schedule consisting of Division I-AA top-ranked Southern Illinois, I-A Bowling Green and I-A Central Michigan, all on the road.

But it's how Southeast's defense -- decimated by injuries -- has been sliced and diced to the tune of a nation-worst 551.2 yards per game that causes the most concern. And that figure has grown worse since OVC play began, which goes against the conventional thinking that the Indians would be fine once they went up against weaker conference teams compared to their first three opponents.

Can the defense -- which is on pace to statistically wind up as by far the worst in school history -- really be as bad as it's looked so far? I guess only time will tell. I know injuries have been a big part of the problem, but it can't be the only part.

But the good news for the Indians is that they're still very much in the OVC race heading into Saturday's home game with preseason league favorite Eastern Kentucky.

Southeast probably isn't catching the Colonels at the best time because EKU, with star quarterback Matt Guice recently returned from an injury he suffered in the season opener, again figures to have one of the OVC's top offenses.

That can't be a pleasant thought for the Indians. But, looking on the bright side, what better time for Southeast's defense to finally rise up and make a statement?

And if that somehow happens, then maybe the season won't be as hopeless as it probably appears right now to Southeast fans.

It should be an interesting Saturday night at Houck Stadium.

You hate to use injuries as an excuse, and to Southeast coach Tim Billings' credit he hasn't.

But it also would be unfair to Southeast's football program not to point out the obvious -- the Indians have been hit with an unbelievable amount of injuries that have either sidelined or hampered close to 10 defensive players. That's an unusual run of horrible luck that is almost unheard of.

And then this past week, the back luck also struck the offense as All-American tight end Ray Goodson had arthroscopic knee surgery and all-conference tackle Dan Connolly came down with a leg infection. Billings hopes they'll both be able to play Saturday, but their status is uncertain.

There's no telling if the Indians would be playing good defense right now had they been completely healthy -- and, in the violent sport of football, not many teams totally avoid the injury bug -- but you'd at least like to have seen what would have happened if they had been relatively injury-free to this point.

That was quite an honor for Connolly, being invited to play in the Las Vegas All-American Classic on Jan. 22.

Connolly, a four-year starter, will be one of only about 25 players from non-Division I-A programs in the postseason all-star game.

Players invited to the Las Vegas All-American Classic are generally regarded as solid NFL prospects, and Connolly appears to have a pretty good chance of being drafted.

There won't only be a big football game in Cape Girardeau on Saturday, there also will be plenty excitement as Southeast inducts another class into its athletic Hall of Fame.

Eleven individual athletes and Southeast's 1987 women's gymnastics team that won the USGF Division II national title will be inducted during an afternoon ceremony at the Show Me Center, and the group will also be honored at that night's football game.

Adding to the big Saturday of sports activity at Southeast will be the men's and women's basketball teams starting practice.

Sikeston High School product Brandon Barnes, a former linebacker at the University of Missouri who completed his eligibility last year, was recently signed by the Washington Redskins and added to their active 53-man roster.

Barnes was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens in April but was released toward the end of training camp.

Austin Peay's men's basketball team recently received a verbal commitment from guard Landon Shipley, a senior at Lafayette High School in St. Louis County.

Shipley is the son of former Southeast basketball player David Shipley, who played guard for the Indians in the late 1970s.

According to the LeafChronicle newspaper in Clarksville, Tenn., Landon Shipley canceled visits to Southeast and Murray State after committing to the Governors.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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