In 2014, Chapman football ran through its competition, with the program’s all-time leading rusher, Jeremiah McKibbins, leading the way. In total, the program only lost three in-conference games from 2012 to 2014. It has lost six in the past two seasons.
The team has by no means been terrible since 2014, but after seeing what it was capable of that season, it has been disappointing to see the program succumb to mediocrity.
The cause for the team’s recent decline can be attributed to a number of factors. But at the core of these issues, head coach Bob Owens said, is the factor of losing experienced players who are familiar with the team’s system and winning ways.
“When you have a really strong, potent senior class, who come in as freshmen and work their way through the system, then all of a sudden over a two-year period, you lose 25, or a three-year period, you lose 60 of those guys out of your system – it’s a pretty good hit,” Owens said. “And that’s leadership and skill. And because you’re in a non-scholarship situation, you can’t count on the fact that each year you’re going to have that stronger freshman class.”
Owens did not comment on his expectations for the team, preferring a day-by-day approach. However, he did express being excited about his last two “really good” freshman classes.
If those past freshmen hope to help the program return to the heights it reached in 2014, there are some areas that will need to improve drastically.
The team’s productivity has declined massively in the running game since 2014, when it averaged 256.6 rushing yards per game. That production dropped by 50 yards per game in 2015. Last year, it dropped to 128.1 yards per game, the lowest it has been since 2009. This has hurt Chapman’s ability to score the football; last year, the team averaged just 23.4 points a game, a 15-point drop from 2014.
Owens’s assessment of the team boiled down to two problem areas: the running game and the secondary.
“No question, we need to improve in the secondary play,” Owens said. “We need to improve our run game. We have traditionally been a strong running football team and it’s important to get back there.”
Conversely, Owens looked to Chapman’s defensive front and passing game as the team’s two main strengths.
“Our defensive front may be one of the better defensive fronts in our conference, period,” Owens said. “I think our ability to throw and catch the football may be one of the high points of this year, but what’s going to be a real difference-maker is our ability to run the ball. That’s a very strong focus point for us right now.”
If Chapman can maintain the same defense stinginess of last year and fix its secondary, it can remove pressure from an offense that desperately needs to improve its run blocking. If Chapman does that and runs effectively, it can mix up its offensive approach and catch teams off guard with the passing attack that Owens is excited about, giving Chapman football a legitimate chance to return as a challenger for one of the top spots in the conference.