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Raiders aim to cut down on turnovers

In general, Craig Howard is pleased with Southern Oregon's offense — it isn't going to break any scoring records this season, but the Raiders haven't had much trouble moving the ball either despite suffering some key injuries.

But SOU's first-year coach is fed up with what has turned out to be the Raiders' fatal flaw (turnovers) and he isn't going to take it anymore.

"You just can't fumble, you can't turn the ball over," said Howard, whose team has done just that 26 times, including 16 fumbles. "Last week in the red zone, (Mary Hardin-Baylor) would score touchdowns and we'd turn the ball over. So we as a coaching staff have made a real commitment to not turn the ball over."

What does that mean, exactly? Simple, explains Howard: If a player fumbles the ball away, they may just find themselves on the Raiders' bench.

"We don't have a lot of depth," he said, "but you just can't tolerate it."

Whether or not the Raiders (3-4) can change their turnover ways will likely go a long way toward determining their fate today against Simon Fraser (2-5). Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Raider Stadium.

The Clan, a NCAA Division II program that competes in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, won its season opener at Pacific, but has lost five of six games since and is coming off a 34-10 loss to Western Oregon.

It will be homecoming Saturday for SOU. Also, the school will honor its 2011 Hall of Fame class, which includes two Raider football greats: former player and coach Jeff Olson, and former running back Dusty McGrorty. Olson and McGrorty also will take part in a reunion of the 2001 team that advanced to the NAIA quarterfinals.

So in a way, the pressure's on the Raiders to perform, or at least show that they're on the right track to return the program to its glory days of the early 2000's.

"I told our players that the most important thing we can do is win the game," Howard said.

While SOU's weakness so far has been its tendency to give away the ball, Simon Fraser's has been defense. Clan opponents on average have scored 38.1 points and gained 426 yards, 269 through the air.

The Raiders, who are 2-0 at Raider Stadium this year, will try to take advantage of that with a passing offense that's proven to be potent, if not consistent. SOU redshirt freshman quarterback, for instance, threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns in the Raiders' win over 22nd-ranked Eastern Oregon two weeks ago, but followed that up with a 15-for-29, two-interception effort against Mary Hardin-Baylor.

On average, the Raiders are gaining 239 yards per game through the air.

Simon Fraser is led by quarterback Trey Wheeler, who's completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,002 yards and two touchdowns. Clan running back Bo Palmer has rushed for 863 yards and six touchdowns, and receiver Bobby Pospischil has caught 35 passes for 268 yards and one TD.

The Raider defense may be forced to play without leading tackler Mike Springer. The senior linebacker who came through with the game-clinching interception against Webber International on Sept. 24, suffered a stinger on his first series against Mary Hardin-Baylor and will be a game-time decision.

In other SOU injury news, Howard said senior running back Brandon Baldwin, the Raiders' leading rusher in 2009 and 2010, will miss at least one more game as he continues to recover from a knee injury suffered Sept. 17 against Willamette.