#3 Abilene Christian at #4 West Texas A&MIt's finally here. The match up we've been waiting for. No slip ups to take any of the luster off the game. Make that THE GAME.
This is arguably the biggest regular season match up in the Lonestar Conference in some thirty years. It is definitely the biggest in recent history. Texas A&M Kingsville and Central Oklahoma have had some memorable Big Games, including a regular season match up in 2004 with TAMK ranked #3 and UCO #6, and a couple of NCAA quarterfinal playoff games (2003 and 1998 when UCO was #1).
Last Year's Game:
#6 West Texas went into Abilene and defeated the #12 Wildcats 41-31. The game did not start well for WT with their first drive stopped deep in ACU territory on a Tony Harp interception. ACU drove 88 yards for the games first points. WT's second possession was short lived, as Keith Null fumbled as he was sacked and ACU took over on the WT 2 yd line. The Buff defense stiffened, forcing ACU to settle for a FG. That defensive stand could have been the turning point of the game. WT went on to outscore ACU 31-7 the remainder of the half, effectively taking control of the game. The WT defense limited Bernard Scott to 88 yds rushing, though he did score 3 TDs. Billy Malone hit 28-49 for 345 yds, 1 TD and 2 INTs. Jerale Badon had 10 receptions and Johnny Knox 8, for 183 yds and a TD. For the Buffs, Keithon Flemming had 113 yds rushing and a TD. Keith Null threw for 360 yds and 4 TDs. Kolo Kapanui caught 6 passes for 101 yds and a TD, while 5 other receivers had at least 3 catches. ACU's Cody Stutts led both teams with 18 tackles, while Tony Harp had 16 and an INT.
This year's Matchups:
WT's defense is allowing 21 pts and 286 yds (94 rushing, 192 passing) per game. The defensive line, led by Eugene Sims, Marvin Wash, Broderick Marshall and Brandon Swain, is talented and deep. All American Jared Brock and Eldon Grimslid lead the experienced and active linebacking corps. The secondary will likely be missing Cashmin Thomas, but the four starters have a combined 8 Ints and 12 passes broken up.
ACU's defense is currently tops in the LSC in both scoring (12.7 per game) and yards allowed (259.5 per game). Since the opening week contest vs. Northwest Missouri, no team has scored more than 14 points, and Widcats defense has scored 7 TDs while allowing just 6. Senior transfer Vantrise Studivant and freshman Ashton Whiteside lead the defensive line. Mike Kern, Eric Edwards and Fred Thompson man the linebacker positions, while Tony Harp and Nick Fellows top the secondary. The Wildcats have had the luxury of rotating in a lot of backups, resting the starters and giving valuable playing time to the reserves.
WT's offensive line depth will probably come into play as Tommy Crowley (probable) and Daniel Sherwood (questionable) are among WT's listed injured players. The running game hasn't been quite as prolific this year - the team is averaging 115 yds per game and a half yard less per carry, compared to 133 last year. Keithon Flemming is again the leading rusher, but averaging 71 yds per game compared to 92 last year. To top it off, he has an injured hand and did not play last week vs. ENMU and is listed as questionable this week. Wayne McKnight is capable of filling in - he rushed for 101 yds and 2 TDs last week - and he can catch the ball out of the backfield as well. The receiving corps is deep. Charly Martin is one of the nation's best, with 49 receptions for 947 yards and 11 TDs. Six others have at least 14 catches. The QB is Keith Null (as if you didn't know). Null has thrown for 2,810 yds (401 per game) and 25 TDs. Since taking over the staring job last year, Null has thrown for almost 7,000 yds and 66 TDs.
If you've been following ACU this year at all, you know that Billy Malone will own almost every LSC passing record at the end of the season. This week, he could surpass 100 career TD passes and 11,000 career passing yards. For the 2008 season, he is completing over 68% of his passes, for 319 yds per game, with 21 TDs and only 5 INTs. Great numbers, but more remarkable considering he has not played a complete game since week one. He spreads his passes out, but his primary targets are Johnny Knox, Bernard Scott, Edmund Gates and Jonathan Ferguson. The four have a combined 84 receptions for 1,729 yds and 17 TDs. Knox blew up the Angelo State defense for 232 yds and 4 TDs on just 6 receptions last Saturday. Bernard Scott keeps teams from keying on the passing game. Scott has 851 yds (142 per game) rushing, another 422 (70.3 per game and 20.1 per catch) and a combined 15 TDs. Again, consider that he usually does not play the fourth quarter and the numbers are even more impressive. The offensive line has been more than solid, and is led by Sam Collins and Joseph Thompson.
Abilene Christian Game Notes
West Texas A&M Game Notes
Outlook for Game:
By the numbers the teams are pretty evenly matched. The teams are one-two in scoring and yardage offensively. ACU has the better defensive numbers, but haven't played a team with a winning record since the opener in Maryville. Both teams have senior leadership across the board. They realize that this game has important implications, not just for the LSC title chase, but more importantly in the NCAA regional rankings and securing home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Big question: Is ACU's defense for real? Last year coming into the WT game, ACU was allowing 18 pts (which led the LSC in points allowed) and 338 yds. From that point on, they allowed 44 pts and 531.5 yds per game. There was a similar fade in 2006 as well. This year may be totally different (the team is much healthier), but it is something to consider.
Prediction: WT has had to work a bit in a few games, while ACU has not been challenged recently. We thiNk Coach Carthel has a surprise or two up his sleeves, and are going to go for an upset (if you can call it that) and take the defending champs, WT 35-31.