By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (September 23, 2016) — Tarleton State (1-2, 1-0) has struggled in recent years against West Texas A&M (2-1, 1-0), losing nine of its last 11 in the series. But Texan head coach Todd Whitten has never lost to WTAMU, and he surely can’t think Saturday is a good time to start.
The Lone Star Conference rivals meet at 6 p.m. Saturday at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium. Whitten is 6-0 all-time against the Buffs, who are playing their first home game after splitting with nationally-ranked opponents then dominating Texas-Permian Basin, all on the road.
Both teams enter the contest already battle-tested, as WTAMU lost at Azusa Pacific and won at Colorado State-Pueblo before opening LSC play at UTPB in a game delayed by weather until last Sunday morning. Tarleton lost to McNeese State, defending champs of the Division I-FCS Southland Conference, then fell on a field goal in the final seconds against still unbeaten Southwest Bapitst. The Texans opened LSC play with a 35-5 thumping of Angelo State last Saturday in Stephenville.
Tarleton’s only wins the past decade against WTAMU were back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. Here are my three keys to the Texans beating the Buffs for the third time in four years.
1. FORCE WTAMU TO THROW THE BALL DOWNFIELD
I stole this straight from the mouth of Tarleton senior linebacker Cody Burtscher. The leading tackler last year and to this point of the current season for the Texans, Burtscher says WTAMU likes the short, quil passing game and doesn’t take many shots downfield. He says it will be crucial for Tarleton to cover tightly against the short game, forcing the Buffs to throw down the field and giving the Texans a chance to get their pass rush involved. Tarleton has 14 sacks on the season, with 3.5 each by Burtscher and sophomore defensive end EJ Speed. WTAMU quarterback Ethan Brinkley has not completed a pass longer than 33 yards through three games.
2. PROTECT ZED WOERNER
Woerner got better as the game went on last week, completing 10 of his final 16 passes after beginning just 1-9. But he must stay upright in order to continue that trend, and giving him time to survey the field will be no easy task against the WTAMU defense that is allowing just 17 points and 275 total yards per contest. Even having faced two nationally-ranked foes, the Buffs have nine sacks in three games as well as 12 QB hits. The secondary is already striving, allowing just 102 passing yards per game, so Woerner needs a clean jersey and clear passing lanes to give the Texans a chance through the air.
3. WEATHER THE STORM
In an interview with two-time LSC Sportswriter of the Year Kale Steed of the Amarillo Globe-News, WTAMU coach Mike Nesbit emphasized his desire to see the Buffs impress their home crowd. It is their home opener so you can bet it will be a large, energetic crowd when the game begins. I believe Nesbit is going to try to have Brinkley take some shots at big plays before settling into the short passing game, and I also believe he may take a few chances defensively to try and create some “game changing” plays. If Tarleton can stay the course and survive all the early electricity running through Kimbrough Memorial, the Texans are capable of making this an exciting one to the end.