The 2015 ACU football season came to a disappointing end as the Wildcats finished 3-8 overall and 3-6 in conference play.
It was head coach Ken Collums‘ first losing season in his four-year tenure and the program’s first losing season since 2005. After going 6-6 in the team’s return to the Southland Conference in 2014, 2015 became a season hampered with injuries and inconsistent play.
“I am extremely disappointed in how many games we won,” Collums said. “Even when you have established program you don’t know how many games your gonna win.”
The ‘Cats’ wins this season did not come easily, as ACU held off a furious comeback attempt to down Stephen F. Austin, 35-32, for the team’s second win of the season. The season’s low point came when the ‘Cats dropped six straight in conference play.
However, it was followed by maybe its highest point with a last second win over 2014 Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana.
At one point this season, the Wildcats were missing 15 players and that number never got below double digits for the entire year.
“With the injuries that we had theres no way to overcome that,” Collums said. “When you don’t have your best guys out there it makes you not as competitive.”
Injuries across the offensive line caused the run game to sputter for most of the season as young lineman were forced to play much of the year. Codey Funk was one of the lone bright spots on the offensive line, receiving Second-team All-Southland Conference honors.
The run game struggled as the team averaged a league worst 3.5 yards per carry (sacks factored in). Sophomore running back De’Andre Brown led the team in yards with 735 yards at a 5.0 yards per carry clip and five touchdowns. Brown had an up-and-down season largely due to huge halftime deficits, resulting in loss of carries, and O-line growing pains. Brown went over 100 yards three times this season (SFA, Incarnate Word and Northern Colorado) but failed to reach even 40 yards in five games.
Senior running back Herschel Sims finally became fully healthy in 2015, and it showed as he rushed for 366 yards at a team leading 5.1 yards per carry average and a team-leading nine rushing touchdowns.
The offensive line also struggled to keep ACU’s quarterbacks upright, allowing 41 sacks.
The Wildcats passing game never found the rhythm it did last year as junior Parker McKenzie and freshman Dallas Sealey each received time as the starter. McKenzie threw for 1,855 yards and 14 touchdowns to nine interceptions, while Sealey threw for 824 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions while adding 173 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
ACU’s receiving corp was bit early with the injury bug as senior Jace Hudson missed the 2015 season and senior Cade Stone missing the final six games of the season. The receivers had some spotty play this year with drops but featured some big play makers with seniors Cedric Gilbert and Jonathan Epps.
Gilbert led the team in catches (45), yards (688) and touchdowns with a Southland-best seven. Epps followed Gilbert with 41 catches for 464 yards and four touchdowns. Gilbert leaves the ‘Cats in a tough spot for next year as he was responsible for 82 catches for 1,355 yards and 14 touchdowns during his two years as a Wildcat. While the do-it-all Epps leaves the ‘Cats with 1,864 all-purpose yards, 40 total tackles and two interceptions.
Senior Monte Green-Avery also leaves the team. Green-Avery caught 42 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns in his career.
The receiving corp did seem to find some replacements this season with another junior college transfer in Carl Whitley. Whitley became a deep threat for the ‘Cats compiling 374 yards on 17.8 yards per catch and two touchdowns. True freshman Kalin Sadler should be a player to watch as he caught 16 passes for 168 yards.
The tight end position should be pretty young next year as senior Jamie Walker graduates leaving freshman utility tight end Cody Ennis and fellow freshman Liam Flowers. Walker earned All-Conference honorable mention honors for his three red zone touchdown catches. Ennis was responsible for four touchdowns this season with two coming through the air as a quarterback in the red zone.
Collums said that the freshman trio of Sealey, Sadler and Ennis will be huge contributors in the future.
“Those three guys are going to be a major part of our future,” Collums said. “They all showed with a little more time and another spring under their belt they will be fine.”
Defensively, the ‘Cats struggled to make some stops this season but Collums blames his offense’s lack of scoring.
“They (defense) kept us competitive in the game,” Collums said. “I think what didn’t help our defense was our offense’s inability to score.”
ACU’s defense featured few seniors this season so the there should be a lot of youth and experience returning for next. Sophomore linebacker Sam Denmark led the ACU defense all year earning First-Team All-Conference honors with a Southland-best 138 total tackles.
True freshman corner Jabari Butler was the other ACU player to earn Fist-Team honors with a league-best six interceptions. Butler earned the freshman of the year award, and became ACU football’s second player all-time to earn an individual accolade in football.
The defense as a whole struggled when it came to strong running teams. The defense gave up 223.5 yards per game on the ground with an average of 5.8 yards per carry. The struggles came to a boiling point against Lamar as the ‘Cats gave up a Southland Conference record 347 yards to Kade Harrington. The defense found a way to stop some solid run games down the stretch such as (168 yards) McNeese State and (111 yards) Southeastern Louisiana.
The defensive line should return multiple starters and contributors for next season aiding the run defense. Sophomores LaMarcus Allen and Dylan Douglass led the team in sacks with two each. Junior defensive tackle Josh Bloom compiled 24 tackles and five tackles for loss.
Senior linebacker Lynn Grady had himself a nice season, placing second on the team in tackles with 76, while recording seven tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Sophomore linebacker Bryson Gates should be another player to watch as he led the team in tackles for loss (8.0) in just eight games.
In the secondary, the ‘Cats were bit by the injury bug early losing starter Keith Barnett for the season (knee) in camp. ACU’s true freshman responded well as Junior Henderson and Brandon Richmond played well in their first seasons. Henderson was third on the team in tackles with 64 along with 4.5 tackles for loss and one interception. Richmond recorded 23 tackles and one pass break-up.
ACU should return a lot of talent next season but a 3-8 season was surely disappointing to Coach Collums and the team.