Coach Julian Harden could be forgiven if he feels as if he were handed a bill of gridiron goods this week.
On Wednesday, his Seoul American team visits Osan American — the same Cougars who snapped the Falcons’ 25-game regular-season winning streak 35-23 on Sept. 16. And the rematch takes place just four days after Harden’s Falcons beat Taegu American 38-20, while the rested Cougars haven’t taken the field since thrashing Taegu American 34-0 Sept. 23.
“It’s difficult,” Harden said of the short week. “It takes a couple of days to go through the healing process. That we don’t have [more time] is a huge problem. And we don’t get to reassess mistakes we made and work on those. We won’t be as prepared as I’d like to be.”
The game was scheduled a couple of days earlier than usual to prevent the Falcons from having to travel during the height of Chu Sok, the Korean harvest festival that takes place this weekend and usually means thousands of vehicles clogging the Kyongbu Expressway between Seoul and Osan Air Base.
Harden’s ranks are still shy of a few bodies due to injuries; 11 people were sidelined during the first encounter, and while some have returned, it’s “not enough that I feel totally comfortable with.”
He might even be shy a few of his coaching staff. Wednesday is a duty day and the 5 p.m. kickoff might not give his assistants enough time to drive to Osan. “I may be on the sideline by myself,” Harden said.
Then, there’s having to contend with a Cougars ground game, spearheaded by Carlos Albaladejo (314 yards, 3 touchdowns), Will Rapoza (282, 3), Jesse Crockett (152, 2) and Abel May (87, 2). Albaladejo is particularly worriesome for Harden.
“We know he’s the hub of the team,” he said. “If he has a good game, Osan has a good game; if he doesn’t, they won’t. I know one guy won’t be the focus; there are 10 others out there and any of them can step up. But he’s the one we’ll look at initially.”
Contending with that arsenal, Harden said, means ensuring that his charges see the whole field, get in position to make plays and tackle properly.
“Because of their inexperience, a lot of our guys would be in the right position, but would arm tackle instead of putting a helmet and shoulders on them,” he said. “The other thing is, they don’t see the whole field, they’re not in position to make the play. That’s how Taegu scored on us, and that’s how Osan scored on us the first time.”
Though the Cougars can take comfort in that they’ve already beaten the Falcons this season, coach Tony Alvarado refuses to take anything for granted.
“They’ll be ready, even if it is a short week,” Alvarado said. “They’ll be prepared and they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game. Even though we did have some extra days to prepare, we still can’t take them lightly. We’ll never have an edge over them.”
The game will be won, Alvarado said, in the trenches.
“Our offensive line has to have another great game, has to control the line of scrimmage. If we can get my front seven to open those holes, to drive defenders backward off the line of scrimmage, we’ll be successful.”
To Alvarado, beating the Falcons once “is not enough.” Indeed, the Monday after the victory over Seoul American, Alvarado said he and his staff put the Cougars through their “hardest practice ever.”
“We aren’t satisfied with one,” he said. “We’re going to take it up a notch.”
South Korea football
South Korea football
W L Pct. PF PA
Osan American 2 0 1.000 69 23
Seoul American 2 1 .667 82 61
Taegu American 0 3 .000 26 93
Wednesday, Oct. 4
Seoul American at Osan American, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 14
Taegu American at Osan American, 2 p.m.