By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
With Tarleton at 1-2 in its inaugural football season at the NCAA D1 level, it’s hard to imagine game four of the year being much of a “benchmark,” but that’s how Saturday’s contest against Mississippi College looks.
The Texans were competitive in both of their losses, and it’s not hard to imagine them at 3-0 after they fell in double overtime against McNeese State. The Texans had a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter before McNeese rallied.
Last week, the Texans didn’t get rolling until quarterback Steve Duncan entered the game and immediately engineered a touchdown drive. Duncan (a redshirt junior) was the game-one starter and gave way to senior Cameron Burston as part of Coach Todd Whitten’s game plan of platooning his quarterbacks.
If you followed the Texans the past two seasons quarterback, Ben Holmes took the majority of the snaps, and when he suffered a short-term injury, there was notable rust among his replacements.
As a senior, Burston has earned playing time, and he’s the only Texan quarterback to pilot the Texans to a Division 1 win, which he did in week two in a 43-17 blasting of New Mexico State.
Burston was in the starting role due to Duncan being held out because of possible COVID-19 exposure, and the senior made the most out of his first career start.
Burston made things happen with both his arm and his feet as he passed for 252 yards and two touchdowns. His 79 yards rushing was a team-high, and he added two more scores. His 15-29 passing came without any interceptions.
Last week, Burston was still in the starting role but was off target, throwing a pair of interceptions and completing just four passes for 50 yards before giving way to Duncan.
Duncan completed 10-18 passing; however, that was for just 78 yards as the Texans couldn’t get the long ball completed.
Platooning quarterbacks is always great fodder for a football debate, and it is, of course, admirable to reward a player who has stuck with you the entire way.
Let’s go back to that aforementioned “benchmark” because the Texans now have five games left on their schedule, which means to have a winning season, Tarleton needs to win three of those remaining contests.
Things don’t play into Tarleton’s favor in those remaining games with a visit to Dixie State next week that comes after the Texans lost 26-15 on their home turf to the Trailblazers.
One factor that should play in the Texans’ favor is four of those five games will be at home starting Saturday against Mississippi College and then Midwestern State, Northeastern State, and East Central.
The Texans need to win against Mississippi to avoid falling to a 1-3 record. That’s a big hole and could end up throwing Tarleton into the football void known as “first-season excuses” on the recruiting trail.
If you are over .500 in your first football season at the D1 level, you don’t have to make excuses to potential recruits and transfers about how it’s the first time out of the gate.
As a recruiter, you don’t want high school seniors reading about how the Texans were so close and had a 14-point lead before falling.
Instead, you want recruits to read about how the Texans were 6-2 or 5-3 in their first season, which makes your program more attractive across the board.
As a head coach with his hand over the quarterback position, Whitten has all the information he needs right in front of him about what options give him the best chances to win. Both Duncan and Burston have shown they can win games, and that’s what Tarleton needs to do.
It will be interesting to see Whitten’s approach Saturday. Will Whitten stick to the idea of platooning he mentioned after the double-overtime loss?
Platooning would seem likely if the Texans put up a big lead earlier, but two ago weeks there was no platooning as Burston took all of the snaps.
Regardless of Whitten’s decision regarding his starting quarterbacks, you can bet the guys he puts on the field are the ones he feels give the Texans the best chance at a win.
Kickoff against Mississippi College is set for 2 p.m