Del Smith summed it up best this week at Mountain East Conference Media Day. A season ago, 20 conference games were decided by seven points or fewer.
The 4-7 Bobcats played in six of those games, and lost four of them.
Smith learned quickly just how competitive the MEC is in his first season as head coach. In his second season, he wants to make sure his team finishes games.
“This year’s got to be about winning games in the fourth,” said Smith. “That’s the fine margin between successful seasons – eight and nine win seasons – and four win seasons. They understood pretty quickly that you can get competitive in this league quickly if you work hard and you’re sound and you do the right things, but winning games in the fourth quarter is a lot different.”
The challenge this season isn’t just finishing in the fourth quarter, but doing it without All-American tailback Michael Anderson, who led the conference in rushing yards last fall.
Smith and senior quarterback Ryan Deal believe there’s still enough talent on the roster to get the job done.
“There’s gonna be a lot more people who get involved,” said Deal, who started last season for the Bobcats. “I think that’ll help us out a little bit.”
Added Smith: “I think more talent spread across the offense, outside of being in one position in the backfield, will help us be more successful.”
Smith and his players are also eager to usher in a new crop of Bobcats, who might be able to help the cause in their first season.
“We’ve got new people coming in, and we had a good spring,” said defensive lineman Cody Goode. “Everything is going well. Since we lost seniors, it’s going to be fun to see people step up.”