Carter handoff

Sam Houston State running back Toneil Carter (30) takes a handoff from quarterback Eric Schmid (3) during Saturday’s home victory over Oklahoma Panhandle State. Carter, playing in his second game with the Bearkats, rushed for a game-high three touchdowns.

Through two weeks of the 2019 regular season, the Sam Houston State Bearkats are right about where most presumed them to be.

Sam Houston State competed with FBS New Mexico on the road until the final possession of the season opener, ultimately falling 39-31. The Kats followed up that performance with a dominant win over an NAIA opponent, beating Oklahoma Panhandle 77-0 — tying their most points since becoming a Division I program.

This weekend, we finally get a look at where the Bearkats really stand.

Sam Houston State is headed on the road to North Dakota for its first FCS test of the season, which is scheduled to kick off at 4 p.m. on Saturday. It’s a game that the Bearkats should win — and one that will teach us a lot about the team they’re going to be this season.

Albeit in a small sample size, the Bearkats have provided reason to believe that the trademark high-octane offense of recent postseason runs has returned. 579 total yards against Oklahoma Panhandle can be viewed with skepticism, but the 558 they put up the week before at New Mexico proves that this production is no anomaly.

A major question yet to be answered for the Bearkats is how much the running game will pace the offense. The four-headed backfield of Kyran Jackson, Toneil Carter, Donovan Williams and Alex Williams received praise from coaches and players throughout the offseason as a potential strength of the team, something reflected in last week’s 366-yard rushing performance. The Bearkats’ running backs will need to build on this success Saturday against a North Dakota defense has given up 340 yards on the ground through two games in 2019.

Quarterback is another position where Sam Houston State could provide some answers this weekend. The Kats have rotated sophomores Eric Schmid and Ty Brock pretty much evenly behind center — Schmid has compiled 336 total yards and four touchdowns, while Brock has totaled 348 yards and three scores. Schmid took the first snap last week, with Brock starting the season opener. 

As the team gears up for its final matchup before Southland Conference play, it’ll be worth watching to see if one signal-caller starts to see the majority of the playing time. It should also be noted that having two quarterbacks isn’t always a negative, with Sam Houston State’s 2015 run to the FCS semifinals serving as a perfect example. Jared Johnson took home Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year honors for his regular-season success at quarterback, but it was then-sophomore Jeremiah Briscoe who led the Bearkats past Colgate in the quarterfinals with a 358-yard, four-touchdown performance.

Defensively, the Kats will have a chance to show they learned from the mistakes that hurt them in the opener, while also building off what they’ve done well the past two weeks. They held New Mexico to just one third-down conversion in 15 tries, but were gashed on a few mistakes and missed chances that proved costly. Facing its second true challenge of the season, Sam Houston State will look to be aggressive and force North Dakota to turn the ball over — something it made Oklahoma Panhandle do on its first three plays from scrimmage last week.

Through two games, the Bearkats appear improved at almost every position. But without having played an opponent at their level, it’s hard to gauge the growth from last year’s 6-5 finish.

So just how much better are the Kats?

We’ll find out Saturday.

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