Redshirt freshman Austin Dodge, who transferred to SOU from Central Washington, has become the starter.

Raiders turn to Dodge ball

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon Raiders will have a new look Saturday, and the flashy red uniforms won't be the only thing that's different at Raider Stadium.

Redshirt freshman Austin Dodge will start again at quarterback after taking over for senior Mike McDonald last week, and junior running back Manny Barragan will start in place of injured leading rusher Brandon Baldwin when the Raiders host Webber International of Florida.

Plagued by turnover woes, defensive breakdowns and now injuries, Southern Oregon (0-3) is still gunning for its first win under head coach Craig Howard. Saturday's homecoming game could be a golden opportunity to finally break through — the Warriors are 0-2, may be dealing with their own change at quarterback and will be playing 3,000 miles away from home.

"First time we've got a chance to put on the red jerseys," Howard said, referring to SOU's new uniforms, "but again, change in uniforms and change in coaches, that isn't the answer. You've got to believe in yourself and have confidence."

Dodge will be making his second consecutive start after completing 25 of 44 passes for 249 yards and one interception last week at Willamette. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound transfer out of Central Washington has a "Division I arm," according to Howard, but lacks McDonald's scrambling ability.

McDonald recovered from a broken leg suffered early last season in time to earn back his starting job for the Raiders' season opener, but was benched after SOU's 52-0 loss to Portland State. The move may have come as a surprise to Raider fans after McDonald lit up Montana Tech in SOU's season opener — he passed for 316 yards and three TDs in addition to 42 yards rushing in the 50-47 double-overtime loss — but Howard said that McDonald's health also factored into the decision.

"McDonald is still getting healthier and maybe he'll get another shot," Howard said. "He hasn't fully healed. He was just pushing himself and we were pushing him, but again, game speed and practice speed are two different things."

As for Dodge, he quickly moved up the depth chart to supplant both Chris Kammel and A.J. Palazzolo, and was one of five Raider QBs to play against Portland State. Howard says Dodge is basically a drop-back passer who's proven to be a quick study while learning SOU's spread offense.

"He made a push," Howard said. "He was new to the program and he transferred in, so he wasn't able to go through spring football. So he's still learning this thing, but his talent and his ability has shown through.

"In our offense, we'd like to have a dual threat guy, but he's just not a run first kind of quarterback. But as he learns the offense and gets more experienced, he'll get better and better."

In order to make the transition easier, Howard said SOU will run a slimmed-down version of its no-huddle offense against Webber International.

Not that the Raiders have been inept. In fact, they gained a whopping 557 yards of total offense against Montana Tech and a respectable 344 against Willamette. But Howard is convinced that for now, simpler may be better.

"When you're not winning you've got to cut back on some of the stuff," he said. "You don't add more, you do less and you try to fine tune it. I wouldn't say that we're dumbing it down, but we're making it so that it's more efficient so we can run fewer plays with better quality. We need production, we need to score points, we need to get this thing rolling."

The loss of Baldwin won't help that cause. The dual-threat senior has been SOU's most consistent offensive threat since joining the team as a sophomore and currently is the Raiders' leading rusher (170 yards, 5.3 yards per rush) and third-leading receiver. He suffered a sprained knee against Willamette and will be out three to four weeks.

The good news for the Raiders is that Barragan, who hails from Yreka, Calif., will not be learning on the job. He had been sharing time with Baldwin in a platoon system before the injury and has proven to be hard-nosed, at times explosive, back with 133 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries.

Barragan's ability to find holes and pick up first downs will be key to the Raiders' success against the Warriors, a team loaded with athleticism and big-play ability.

Webber International could be going through its own change Saturday. Starting quarterback Torrance Moise was replaced by Chris Hart in the second half of WI's 42-10 home loss to Shorter University, and Hart promptly engineered the Warriors' only touchdown drive of the game.

A pass-first team, the Warriors are gaining 404 yards per game. Leading rusher Deonte Fielder has run for 214 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries, while Hart has completed 21 of 40 passes for 296 yards and a TD.

Though he's weary of Webber International's slew of "Division I quality athletes," Howard says the key to the game will be SOU's ability to hold onto the ball. The Raiders committed four turnovers last week, including three fumbles.

"Well, you've got to play mistake-free football," he said. "Southern can't beat Southern. When you get the football, at any level, you can't turn the ball over. So we've got to be mistake free and our players have got to, as we enter the fourth contest, be more confident in their assignments and not make mistakes."

Howard added that despite the rough start, the Raiders have proven to be resilient.

"The guys, they want to win real bad," he said. "Their attitude has been great, their work ethic has been great. There's no panic, we just have a bunch of guys that are disappointed.

"But they have not deviated. We're not having to coach attitude right now, we're having to coach football, and that's a good thing."

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