By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 7, 2017_) — The end of a four-game win streak also marked the end of a streak of games where big plays covered up the troublesome shortcomings of the Tarleton State football team, particularly its offensive line.
All that trouble brewing just under surface due to porous offensive line play came to a head Saturday at Altamira Field, a treasure tucked neatly into a mountainous region of southwestern New Mexico with an elevation of 6,038 feet, about 800 feet higher than Mile High Stadium in Denver.
It’s a long way down from that height, and it’s a long way down from winning four straight and being unbeaten in the Lone Star Conference to hopping on a bus for an 11-hour drive on the heels of a 38-25 defeat at the hands of a previously winless opponent, one that just two weeks prior was victimized by UT-Permian Basin, a second-year program that earned its first victory over an LSC or Division II opponent.
And as painful as it is to say, this elf us who have been to every game, analyzed the team watched it all closely. we could see it coming. Not necessarily against Western New Mexico, for crying out loud, but we knew there was trouble ahead. Now, unless something major changes on the offensive line, it’s hard to look at the slate of teams ahead and pick one that Tarleton can defeat.
It’s an offensive line head coach Todd Whitten and many of us thought would become a great strength. But instead of evolving into a solid unit, it has devolved to the point of becoming a liability that has only been overcome by big plays like the 99-yard fumble return, 76-yard pass and 56-yard run, all for touchdowns, last week at UT-Permian Basin. Those three plays were enough to overcome about 20 maybe 30 of poor play up front.
On Saturday, Tarleton played just as poorly up front but had just one such explosive response – a 92-yard kick return score by Daniel McCants. Outside of that, WNMU enjoyed an 83-yard kick return and a 75-yard interception return to set up scores for a 14-3 halftime lead, and a 67-yard pick six to put the game away in the second half.
With an offensive line that was already playing poorly and now has three starters out with injuries after Cody Hayes went down Saturday, Tarleton had no answer.
The Texans, when it comes to doing the things necessary for consistent offensive success, have a long way to go just to get bad. And they better get there fast, because Eastern New Mexico is about to come calling, and the Greyhounds are better than WNMU.
And there are still the likes of A&M-Kingsville and top 10 stalwarts Midwestern State and Texas A&M-Commerce also ahead.
Anyone who saw the line play in recent weeks knew there was trouble ahead. Anyone watching on Saturday has to wonder, when, if at all this year, will the Texans win again?