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Battle of The Bulldogs open 2014 football season

By ROB LUDWIG / Special To The Corsicana Daily Sun

—  Stopping an outstanding running back, whether it is Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith, typically takes special planning for the opposing defensive coordinator and his staff.

When No. 8-ranked Navarro College opens its season at home at 1 p.m. on Saturday against No. 5 Georgia Military, that preparation will come into full view against the top-rated junior college player in the nation.

GMC’s Jovon Robinson (6-0, 225) was the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman, setting single-season marks in rushing (2,338 yards) and touchdowns (34) as he led the Bulldogs to the NJCAA title game against East Mississippi. Robinson rushed for more than 200 yards six times, including a 238-yard, three-TD effort in GMC’s 52-32 loss in the title game.

With a new quarterback, three freshmen starters along the offensive line and only one game-breaking receiver in Zireycus Letman, the focus of Georgia Military’s offense will again be Robinson, who has already committed to Auburn.

“He does everything you want in a running back,” Navarro Coach Brian Mayper said of Robinson. “He can outrun you, or he runs over people. The best part is he gets in the end zone . . . a lot.

“The key for the defense is making it through an entire game after just practicing so far this fall. They are going to have to play their assignments and not leave gaps open, especially with a good running back sitting back there.”

Navarro hopes to avoid any rare letdowns defensively at Tiger Stadium. Winners of the last nine meetings between the two teams, including 30-23 victory in the 2012 Heart of Texas Bowl, the Bulldogs hope to lean on a veteran offensive line, a pair of talented quarterbacks and a potentially powerful running game to keep the ball out of Robinson’s hands.

After starting much of last season as a true freshman, Carson Earp has found himself in a battle this fall with sophomore transfer Bivins Carraway to handle the quarterback chores. Mayper said the two have split snaps in practice and that the opening day starter would be a “gametime situation.”

“They are both similar guys,” he said. “Both have very strong arms, they are both athletic and both have the capability to run very effectively.”

So does a Navarro backfield that features Ke’aun Kinner, who averaged more than 9 yards a carry as a freshman. Xavier Turner (6-1, 235), who led Class 5A rushers in Texas last year at Birdville, could see more extensive time in a one-back set after Josh Cleveland was lost for the year with a broken leg. Kijana Amous saw extensive time in fall practice at linebacker, but he recently made the switch to full-time running back, where he starred for three years at Mansfield Legacy.

Controlling the line of scrimmage against Georgia Military’s blitzing 3-3 stack defense will be up to an offensive line that features four players who were either starters or saw extensive time as freshman. Leading the group is Maurice Porter, a Baylor commit who protect the quarterbacks’ blind side. The Bulldogs have also benefitted from the transfer of 6-foot-9, 315-pound tackle Tristian Nickelson and freshman Donavon Wheaton, who has jumped over sophomore Jarvis Adams on the depth chart at left guard.

“Only a true game will test the offensive line,” Mayper said. “Everything is controlled in the scrimmage. But in the game situations, things change throughout the day. We have to try to find a weakness in their defense and exploit it.

“As long as we execute on the offensive line, at quarterback, running back and even at receiver, we’re going to be OK. If we don’t execute, it’s going to be tough. Georgia Military have been making it tough on people for a long time.”

In Coach Bert Williams’ 15 seasons, the Bulldogs have accumulated a 113-37 record, winning one NJCAA championship and consistently pumping players into the Division I pipeline. Despite losing several key players last spring to graduation, the quality of this year’s GMC team has not changed, says Mayper.

“They are no different that they’ve been since 2007 when Mayper was an assistant in Navarro’s 24-21 Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl victory. “They will be one of the best teams we’ll face all season. If they were in our conference, they’d be one of the top teams.”

And with Robinson looking for seams and small holes to exploit, the Bulldogs likely won’t see as talented a runner all season, too.

No. 5 Georgia Military (0-0) at No. 8 Navarro (0-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Tiger Stadium, Corsicana

Radio:  KAND 1340 AM

RECENT HISTORY:  Navarro has won the last nine straight meetings between the teams, including a 30-23 win two years ago in the Heart of Texas Bowl. Navarro holds an 11-4 overall edge in the series and eight games decided by nine points or less

KEY PLAYERS:  Navarro: WR Austin Collins, KR Mikechell Potts, RB Ke’aun Kinner, QB Bivins Carraway, QB Carson Earp. Georgia Military: RB Jovon Robinson, QB Tyler Herman, OL Chase Nixon, LB Dezmin Reed, CB Jeremy Boykins, DE Devante Covington, WR Zireycus Letman.

Game Notes: Everyone’s eyes will be glued to the GMC backfield Saturday to see RB Robinson. The Auburn commit set NJCAA records for rushing TDs (34) and rushing (2,387), gaining more than 200 yards in his final five games of the season … Navarro was second in the nation, averaging 288.1 yards rushing per game, a yard less that GMC last year. Navarro averaged 477 total yards per game, compared to 454.8 for GMC. Navarro quarterbacks completed 57.6 percent of their passes, compared to 52 percent for the Georgia team . . . K Macias could be a weapon for Navarro after connecting on all 11 field goal attempts a season ago. He finished for 99 total points, a school single-season record for kickers