Southern Nazarene (0-0) at Howard Payne (0-0)

7 p.m. Saturday — Gordon Wood Stadium

2006 Result: HPU 7, Southern Nazarene 0

Year three of the Mike Redwine era at Howard Payne University begins Saturday night as the Yellow Jackets square off with the Southern Nazarene Crimson Storm in a rematch of last year’s 7-0 HPU victory.

Game time is slated for 7 p.m. at Gordon Wood Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets welcome back seven defensive starters from last year’s 5-5 team, but Howard Payne will be breaking in almost an entirely new set of offensive skill players.

Heading into the opener, Redwine has been pleased with the progress the veteran defensive unit has shown. The Yellow Jackets surrendered 29.6 points, 153.6 yards rushing and 219 yards passing per game in 2006.

“Defensively, we felt that we would be better this year,” Redwine said. “In our scrimmage against Trinity, we were flying around and creating turnovers and that was really exciting to see. Overall, this year the depth is better and the overall front line talent is better.”

The Yellow Jackets are slated to start junior Stephan Bernard and seniors Brian Ortiz, Colwin Dennis and Kyle Mossakowski along the defensive line, junior Mark Jimenez, freshman David Naylor and sophomore Kevin Reyna at linebacker and seniors Ricky Austin, Kasey Black and Derek Elzner, along with sophomore Zach Dauer, in the secondary.

Offensively, the Yellow Jackets are looking to replace their quarterback and three leading receivers after Howard Payne chalked up 25.4 points and 371.6 yards of total offense per game in 2006, which included 261.5 yards through the air.

Sophomore Johnathon Haddock has received the nod to start at quarterback, but senior transfer Jason Lovvorn, formerly of Baylor, should also see action.

“We envision both those guys contributing,” Redwine said. “They have similar abilities and skills, so it’s not like we’ll have to change the offense for one guy or the other. Our approach is not that it’s a quarterback controversy, it’s more like track, where the coach asks you to run either the open 400 or the 4x400 relay. You’re not as nervous for the relay, and this is a chance for them to pass the baton on to a teammate.”

Sophomore Cody McKenzie will get the start in the backfield, but junior Zach Lee and newcomer Jeffery Johnson are also expected to receive some carries.

“Cody came on late in the year as a freshman,” Redwine said. “He’s from a smaller school, but he has some instincts that have allowed him to make the transition to a higher level of football and still be productive. He makes quick cuts and he’s very decisive when he’s running north and south.”

Junior Jordan Beard is the most experienced receiver returning, while senior Zach Howard, junior Genoa Dill and sophomores Edward Cody, Joe Carmack, Zach McGuire and Justin Havard could work into the mix.

“Jordan looks to provide some good leadership and production for us,” Redwine said. “He’s been a complementary receiver in the past, but now we’re going to be calling on him to make a few more plays and I think he’ll be up to that challenge.”

Only two of the three returning starters on the line will be in action Saturday in left tackle Stephen Ortegon and left guard James Dougherty, both seniors. Junior right guard Dan Pike is banged up and expected to miss the opener. Senior Danny Preslar is slated to start at center while sophomore Josiah Bone and senior Patrick Rose will start on the right side of the line.

“The left side has 20 games of experience side by side, but we’re looking for some guys to emerge on the right side,” Redwine said. “They’ve been working hard, but we’re a little more untested there.”

Southern Nazarene is entering its second season under head coach Mike Cochran who, like Redwine, is a former head coach at MidAmerica Nazarene. The Crimson Storm posted a 7-3 record a year ago.

Offensively, the Crimson Storm returns quarterback Tyler Schneider (129-273, 1,516 yards, 9 TDs, 10 interceptions), leading rushers Branden Smith (685 yards) and Jacob Smith (431 yards) and top receiving threats Jake Griffin, T.J. Hamilton, Cody Alexander, Zack Bridwell, Tyler Ross and A.J. Blackburn.

Only two starters along the line are back, however, in center Scott Hill and right tackle Doug Wilson.

“It will be interesting to see what happens with them offensively,” Redwine said. “They have a pretty interesting blend of big linemen and a big fullback to run a power game, but they also have a returning quarterback and talented enough receivers to run the spread game as well.

“I think that blend of thunder and lightning, if they’re able to achieve both of those things, will make it very difficult to defend them. Their system could go from blue collar to really flashy.”

Three of SNU’s top five tacklers graduated, but the Crimson Storm welcomes back defensive lineman T.J. Pearsall, linebackers Patrick Orth and Frits Remedor and defensive backs Caleb Tarr, Royce Street and Brock VanCleave.

“I see their defense as being more talented this year,” Redwine said. “They play very a aggressive brand of defense that puts a lot of pressure on you. Early in the season, that might be slightly more than you are ready to see offensively with just one scrimmage under your belt and a lot of new players.”

Redwine also expects special teams to be a huge factor in the game. The Yellow Jackets return senior kicker Jordan Bullard, while freshman Horace Paine has also had a productive fall camp. Freshman Aaron Compton will handle the punting chores, while Aaron Alvarado and Steven Rowell are the leading deep snapper candidates.

The kick and punt return duties will be handled by various combinations of running backs, receivers and defensive backs.

“Over and over throughout the weekend you’ll hear about how important special teams are in the early part of the year,” Redwine said. “That’s definitely true, and will be true of this game. We’re going to have to be prepared because Southern Nazarene does an outstanding job with their units.”

Though Redwine admitted evaluation of talent and finding the right mix for the Sept. 15 American Southwest Conference opener against East Texas Baptist is one of the key objectives, he feels the talent is in place for the Yellow Jackets to walk away with another season-opening victory.

“We certainly want a victory, but we also welcome another chance to evaluate our guys and make sure we have them in the right positions to help our team when conference play starts,” Redwine said. “With a young offense, you have to play really good defense and you need to have a strong special teams to go along with it. That could be a winning formula in itself.”