By BRAD KEITH
ODESSA (September 30, 2017) — Tarleton State scored on defense for the fourth time this season, then Zed Woerner, Jeff Thomas and Xavier Turner provided the explosive offense necessary for the Texans to survive a sloppy 32-17 affair at UT-Permian Basin Saturday evening.
Sloppy because the Texans have significant trouble along the offensive line, benching 6-6, 360 pound guard Jovan Pruitt at halftime against West Texas A&M the week prior and losing center Noah Perez to injury on Saturday.
UT-Permian Basin exposed Tarleton’s unfathomable inability to pick up any kind of pressure, and the Falcons brought plenty of it, blitzing on just about every play of the first half. When it wasn’t a blitz there were still line stunts taking place, and the Texans couldn’t get a grasp on those, either.
The result was 38 total yards at halftime. That’s just 17 yards rushing on 21 attempts and 17 yards on 3-5 passing.
But Tarleton did not turn the ball over and UT-Permian Basin did. Just once, but that seems to be all it takes for the explosive athletes on the Tarleton defense to make teams pay. This time it was Elliott Hart, who scooped up a fumble and returned it 99 yards, matching the longest defensive return in school history to give the Texans a 6-3 lead that stood until halftime.
Then Zed Woerner, Xavier Turner and Jeff Thomas took over, combining to score four touchdowns, the shortest traveling 29 yards, in the second half, and Woerner becoming the Tarleton leader in career touchdown passes.
It wasn’t like the blocking or protection woes ceased. In fact Woerner took a big hit on the 29-yard TD pass to Thomas. It was about making enough big plays to overcome the trouble the line is experiencing, like a one-cut and go 56-yard TD run by Turner – on perhaps the best blocked of all plays on a night when few were blocked well at all, so good thing he was opportunistic in that moment.
Then came the quick release on a go route, where Thomas needed just an instant to get two steps behind the defender before Woerner would likely be sacked. Both did their job, Thomas exploding past the corner back and Woerner firing quickly before being hit, putting it on the money so that an in-stride Thomas could race away.
That was the third touchdown in four plays from scrimmage, by the way, with two of them belonging to a Tarleton team that has won four straight, three of them while being easily out-gained offensively but using explosive plays – even on defense – to overcome their struggles.
Tarleton doesn’t have to out gain foes when those teams drive to the red zone three times without scoring a point there. That happened Saturday, as the Falcons snapped the ball 12 times inside the Tarleton red zone in the first half and were outscored 6-0 on those plays.
Tarleton has arguably gotten the better of an opponent on more plays than not in only two games this season, yet the Texans are 4-1 including 3-0 in the LSC because when they do make a play, their explosive ability usually makes it a big one.
A 99-yard TD. A record-breaking pass. The list goes on.
Tarleton isn’t consistent, and problems along the offensive line must be addressed before facing Eastern New Mexico, Texas A&M-Kingsville, No. 12 Midwestern State and No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce down the stretch.
Eventually, one – or more – of the strong-to-very-strong teams remaining on the Tarleton schedule aren’t going allow enough prolific moments to overcome a generally porous night of football, which is exatly what the Texans just survived
UTPB is not those teams, however, so Tarleton had some wiggle room. Just enough, it turns out, for prolific moments by Hart, Woerner, Thomas and Turner to overcome tremendous woes that keep being further exposed.
The Texans have a four-game win streak and are 3-0 in the LSC, so for now, life is good.
But if they continue to put themselves behind the eight-ball, there will eventually be no way out.