Heading into the second district game of the season, Meridian head coach Larry Weems still sees plenty of room for improvement. The Wildcats are fresh off a 35-0 win over Jim Hill last week, but despite the score Weems was not impressed with his team's execution.
“You can't gage things based on other people,” Weems said. “You gage it on what you taught your players and what you thought they should do on both sides of the ball. I was not pleased at all last week. It doesn't matter at all if you win 35-0, because the other team gave up a few big plays. Our execution is not where we needed it to be.”
Tonight, Meridian (4-1, 1-0) will travel to Jackson to take on Provine (1-4, 0-1) from North Jackson Field at Forest Hill High School. Weems said his team will once again have to focus on discipline, as the Wildcats racked up 55 yards of penalties on offense last week. Despite scoring 35 points, Meridian was limited to just 45 plays all game. Weems said that number will need to climb to 60 or 70 if the Wildcats want to be successful in district play.
“We never got in a rhythm,” Weems said. “You can still not execute on offense even if you score.”
Here are five things to watch for in tonight's game.
1) Pressure in the pocket: Meridian quarterback J'Mar Smith completed six-of-nine passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns last week but did so under constant pressure from the Jim Hill defense. This season, Smith has completed just 49 percent of his passes. Weems said the low percentage has a lot to do with the lack of protection his junior quarterback has received this season.
“If you can't protect a quarterback, none of them are going to do well.” Weems said. “You got to let him get back, set his feet and make a good throw. If you can't do that, at any level, you are going to be in trouble.”
2) Stop the run: Through five games this season, Provine has averaged 175.8 yards a game on the ground. DeMarque Brown leads the way for the Rams with 534 yards on 106 carries. Weems said the Wildcats will look to stack the box Friday night and force Provine into passing situations.
“That's what they do, and they've always done pretty well at it,” Weems said. “You have to get physical and step up there and tackle them. They are going to keep running it right at you.”
3) The full 48: Since leaving the Week 3 game against South Panola with an injured ankle, senior running back Richard McQuarley has yet to play a full game. Weems said he will continue to be cautious with his star back even though he is cleared to play.
“It will just depend,” Weems said. “Look, I don't care about a full game or anything like that. We got 50 kids playing. Every coach has his own way of doing stuff, but my guys, I don't worry about their stats. I worry about having them ready for the next contest.”
4) Kick it deep: Senior kicker Aaron Garrett has been reliable for the Wildcats this season converting on 15 of 16 extra points. His presence has been particularly felt on kickoffs though, as he has now tallied up 14 touchbacks this season. Weems said Garrett's ability to boom the ball out of the end zone has been a big help on special teams.
“He's been big,” Weems said. “I don't like having my guys lined up 60 yards away from the other team's best athlete with running room and the ball. It's very important to get touchbacks so you don't give that kid a chance to make a big play for the other team.”
5) Forest Hill homecoming : Weems and Provine head coach Willie Collins are both graduates of Forest Hill High School. With the game being moved from Hughes Field to South Jackson Field at Forest High School, the two coaches will get to coach on the same field they grew up playing on. Earlier in the week Meridian players gave Weems some good-natured ribbing when he brought out tapes of his playing days after practice.
“I've got a couple of old high school tapes of when I was there, and the kids are laughing because the clock on the scoreboard has a dial on it,” Weems said. “That's how long ago it was. The players were telling me the goal post looked like they were 50 years old. I told them they probably were the same ones, because they aren't but 10 or 15 feet high.”