BY DARREN REESE
The Tusculum football team has long been known for its high-powered offense. But even head coach Frankie DeBusk is at somewhat of a loss as to why his unit can't seem to find any consistency this season.
The Pioneers rank first in the South Atlantic Conference in yards per game (466.0), but just sixth in points scored (25.2).
Tusculum (1-3 overall, 0-1 SAC) is coming off a 14-6 loss to Catawba in which it was held more than 200 yards under its season average.
The Pioneers will look to get things on track this afternoon as they host Brevard (0-4, 0-2) in a 2 p.m. contest at Pioneer Field. The live radio broadcast can be heard on WSMG 1450 AM. This is Homecoming weekend for the college.
"Honestly, we are very upset at how we played offensively last week," said DeBusk, whose team was held without a touchdown for the first time since 2006.
"I firmly believe that we are so close to erupting for a lot of points. We are making some good plays, we are just so inconsistent."
Tusculum's slow starts have been well documented this season. The Pioneers have been out-scored 34-10 in the first quarter and 73-36 in the first half through four games.
But last week, the problems lasted the entire 60 minutes.
DeBusk believes there might be several factors playing into the offensive woes. One of the main reasons is youthfulness at the receiver position.
Tusculum graduated two of the program's all-time leading receivers at the end of last season in All-American Deonte Gist and All-Region performer Rashaad Carter.
The top returner coming into 2012 was junior Xzanvion Smith, who caught just 17 passes a year ago.
There have been some growing pains for the new crop of receivers, as DeBusk pointed out after last week.
"We calculated it, and we had 15 dropped balls against Catawba," the coach said. "You aren't going to beat anybody when you do that."
"We probably don't want to admit it, but playing so many new players this year, it's taken them some time to get there feet wet. They make mistakes and they learn from them, and that's where we are."
Junior quarterback Bo Cordell, a 2010 Harlon Hill Trophy finalist, missed all but three games last year, and has been working hard to get on the same page with his new targets.
DeBusk describes Cordell's play so far this season as "above average", but admitted that there is a lot of room for improvement in the passing game.
"Bo is back and is still the leader of our football team," DeBusk said. "He is out there making plays. Now we need the people around him to make plays.
With that said, DeBusk has been pleasantly surprised with some of the other aspects on offense. He says the team is getting better offensive line play than it has in years, and that the running back position is keeping the team above water.
DeBusk is also quick to point out the successes of the Tusculum defense in 2012.
The Pioneers held Catawba scoreless in the second half last week and gave up just 312 yards in defeat. The week before that, the opportunistic TC defense forced three key turnovers to help in a 33-21 win over North Greenville.
"Our defense has played well enough in three of our four games for us to get the victory," DeBusk said.
Statistically, the Tusculum defense is the worst in the SAC, allowing 484.2 yards per game. But that number doesn't tell the whole tale, according to the head coach.
Not only have the Pioneers been getting acclimated to new philosophies under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Iezzi, but they have also been put in numerous tough situations due to the offense's inconsistent production.
"Offensively, we are keeping the defense on the field too long," DeBusk said. "We are doing a good job of (keeping the other team) out of the end zone. We obviously need to get more three-and-outs, but I think the defense is doing very well."
Brevard is winless on the season and has lost eight straight games dating back to last year. But if DeBusk needs some sort of motivation to get his team focused on this game, he will look no further than last October when the Tornadoes rolled to a 41-24 home win over Tusculum. That game was the last time Brevard tasted victory.
Tusculum will be taking up donations at the gate as part of the Coach to Cure Muscular Dystrophy campaign. The a member of the Pioneers' football team, Curtis Moneyhun, suffers from the disease. Moneyhun will be recognized before the game, as will another local youngster battling MD, Austin Bugger.
Brevard is led by former East Tennessee State head coach Paul Hamilton, who was in Johnson City from 1997-2003.
Tusculum quarterback Bo Cordell needs just 369 passing yards to become the all-time leading passer in the South Atlantic Conference.
This is the ninth meeting between Tusculum and Brevard. The first game in the series occurred in 1940. The Pioneers hold a 5-3 lead in the series' record.