By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (October 21, 2016) — Some homecoming games are scheduled simply as shoo-in victories. That isn’t the case with Tarleton’s homecoming game against Texas A&M-Kingsville, as likely the two most improved teams in the Lone Star Conference square off at 6 p.m. Stadium at Memorial Stadium.
Tarleton has shown its vast improvement with three consecutive Lone Star Conference victories and four wins in their last five games, soaring to a tie for second in the league after last week’s 26-16 road win at Eastern New Mexico.
But while Tarleton (4-3, 4-1) has back-loaded schedule with top 10 opponents in Midwestern State and Texas A&M-Commerce – in addition to bottom dweller Oklahoma Panhandle State – still ahead, Texas A&M-Kingsville (4-3, 2-3) faced a front-loaded LSC slate and has outscored opponents by an average of 42-23 this season despite already facing both No. 4 MSU and No. 9 A&M-Commerce.
Many believe the winning team Saturday may boast the LSC Coach of the Year at season’s end, and the records support such a claim. Tarleton was just 3-7 last season, and A&M-Kingsville was just 2-9. They split two meetings, with Tarleton winning in the regular season before the Javelinas took the rematch in the consolation semifinals of the now defunct LSC playoffs. Tarleton’s other two wins were against Panhandle State, while A&M-Kingsville’s other win was also against OPSU.
Now, as both teams try to keep pace with the upper echelon of the conference, something must give. So what are the keys to victory for the Texans? Disclaimer: I’m skipping the most obvious key for both teams – takeaways and giveaways. Neither club can afford to get beat in that category Saturday evening. That said, here are my keys for the Texans:
1. PRESSURE MYLES CARR: Carr’s numbers are similar to Tarleton QB Zed Woerner’s. He’s a 65 percent passer with 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions on the season. A&M-Kingsville has allowed 17 sacks in seven games, while Tarleton has managed 24 sacks on the season – six more than all of last year. If Carr has time to survey the field, guys like Anthony Autry (27-458) and Jordan Thomas (22-368) will find a way to get open. The Texans need to speed up the game for Carr and company, and that means giving him less than comfortable time to throw the football.
2. THE OPPOSITE – PROTECT WOERNER: The Tarleton junior was sacked five times and hurried 11 other times last week, but still delivered three touchdown passes, the fourth consecutive game he has had at least that many. Woerner is a 64 percent passer with 19 TDs and five interceptions on the year, and over the last four games is 69 percent for 1,248 yards and 14 of those scores. TAMUK has to be thinking the same defensively as I said applies to Tarleton above. The Javelinas, who already have 25 sacks this season, know they can’t let Woerner have time to find stellar athletes like Jeff Thomas, Del’Michael High and Bubba Tandy down the field.
3. RUN GAME: These two teams are very similar on paper, except for on the ground. The Javelinas rush for 190 yards per game and the Texans are rushing for just 97. That includes 25 carries for only 18 yards last week, when Woerner and the receivers quite literally put the offense on their backs and carried them down the field. Tarleton must contain the likes of Nick Pelrean (99-465) and Greg Pitre (81-349) on the ground, and doing so will mean being better than the 165 yards per game the Texans are currently allowing. And when the Texans have the ball, they have to find a way to get Joseph Sadler loose. He does have three 100-yard rushing performances this season, but it has been an up-and-down year running the ball.