Thursday, September 16, 2010

Game Previews and Predictions Week 4

Eastern New Mexico and Angelo State are idle this week.

Northeastern State at North Dakota
The 43-13 score would have you believe that the Riverhawks were just blown out of the water Saturday against ACU. But let's look at the negatives and positives for NSU: Negatives - 3 blocked punts (2 returned for TDs, 1 setting ACU up on NSU 12 yard line), 1 punt return for TD, 83 yard TD run, QBs a combined 8-26 passing for 112 yards  Positives - held ACU offense to just 332 yards and 3 FGs outside of the meltdowns above, QBs threw for 2 TDs and no Ints.  Not enough to get them past ACU, but the Riverhawks are looking better than the past several seasons.

North Dakota comes into the game with an 0-2 record, dropping games to Idaho and Northern Illinois after finishing last year at 6-5. Offensively, the Fighting Sioux are averaging 108 yards rushing and 194 passing, while allowing 245 on the ground and 284 in the air. An annual national contender while in D2, UND has yet to take the step up to serious contender in IAA.

Teams typically see an improvement in talent when they face IAA (FCS) teams, but a week after facing ACU, the Riverhawks are possibly facing a team with less talent this week. They will need to improve their punt game dramatically and keep the crowd from being a factor in a usually raucous Alerus Center. Though an upset is unlikely to happen this wee, look for NSU to keep the score a little closer than last week. UND 35-17.

Tarleton State at Northwestern State (LA)
While its not a surprise that it has taken the Texans some time to find a rhythm offensively, no one expected them to be 0-2. The offense did have two sustained drives and a quick strike for their 3 TDs, but they only averaged 3.7 plays and 7.4 yards on their other 10 possessions, with 6 punts, 2 missed FGs and 2 turnovers. The defense only gave up 333 yards, but allowed three scoring drives averaging 65 yards and UCO was 7-13 on third down conversions. And the four times when UCO started a possession in Tarleton territory, they scored three TDs and ran out the clock.  The Texans are not yet out of the LSC title hunt or the NCAA playoffs, but they don't have any more wiggle room.

The Demons closed out the 2008 season with a 34-24 win over Stephen F. Austin. Since then they have lost 13 straight, including a 65-21 loss to Air Force and a 19-7 loss to Samford. They are averaging 209 yards passing and just 55 rushing, while allowing 338 on the ground (remember Air Force) and 200 passing.

In a normal year, this is a game that Tarleton would be very competitive in and possibly favored to win - two weeks ago, we would have picked the Texans to beat a winless Demon squad. But NSU is very hungry, and possibly desperate for a win. Couple that with the lace of consistency on either side of the ball for Tarleton, and we think NSU will pull it out. Northwestern 31-21.

East Central at #5 Abilene Christian
The Tigers lost as expected to #6 Texas A&M-Kingsville, but by a much closer margin (20-7) than anyone forecast. The Javelinas outgained ECU by a 452 to 87 margin, but four interceptions by ECU kept the game close. The defense did their part, in addition to the interceptions, ECU picked up 5 sacks, and allowed just one TD in four red zone trips for TAMK. It would have been even closer had the offense chipped in a little. ECU started in TAMK territory 3 times and left empty handed 3 times. Five second half possessions resulted in 16 plays for 12 total yards.

On the other hand, ACU won big without putting up huge offensive numbers. But when your punt defense is destroying the opposition (3 blocked punts resulting in 2 TDs, and setting the ACU offense up on the NSU 12 yard line, and a punt return for TD), you don't need to move the ball up and down the field to score a lot of points.  The defense did their job, giving up just 204 yards and picking up 4 sacks.  NSU had just two possessions of 20 or more yards.

East Central has shown improvement through the first two weeks, but still have a way to go.  Abilene Christian looks to be similar to last year - great defense, but maybe more consistent on offense, and ready to exploit their opponents weaknesses.  ACU comfortably, 45-17.

Southeastern Oklahoma at #9 West Texas A&M
It was a night of big plays for the Savage Storm offense -  TD passes of 81, 74 and 61 yards and a 60 yard run that set up a first quarter field goal.  The rest of the night, SOSU put up 195 yards on 45 plays.  Baylen Laury (152 yards, 2 TDs rushing) and Logan Turner (288 yards, 3 TDs passing) had games worthy of their preseason expectations.  The defense allowed 383 yards, 181 rushing and 202 passing, but did a good job on third downs, allowing just UIW to convert just 3 of 15.  Steven Harris is second in the LSC with 11.5 tackles per game and has an interception as well.

West Texas A&M dominated last week's romp over Southwestern Oklahoma in every conceivable way.  The offense piled up 557 yards despite emptying the bench.  Taylor Harris threw for 304 yards and 4 TDs despite only playing the first half, and Brittan Gloden and Stephen Burton combined for 8 receptions for 226 yards and 3 TDs, again all in the first half.  The defense held SWO to 212 yards, picked off three passes, and scored 2 TDs of the own.  Special Teams?  How about a blocked punt for a TD.  The Buffs now lead the LSC in scoring (54 points per game), total offense (562 yards per game) and pass offense (421.5 yards per game).

The Savage Storm better have enjoyed last week's win, because this week they are facing a tough, athletic Buffalo team that may be Coach Carthel's best yet.  WT in a big way, 49-17.

Texas A&M-Commerce at #6 Texas A&M-Kingsville
Going into last week's game, the Lions had to be feeling pretty good.  A stout second half showing in game one against Upper Iowa gave them some confidence heading into the Harvey Martin Classic at the Cotton Bowl.  They opened up with a 10 play 78 yard drive resulting in a short field goal to take a 3-0 lead.  After that, the offense could only muster up one more scoring drive, ending the day with just 274 yards, allowing 7 QB sacks and throwing 3 Intercepions, one of which was returned for a TD.  The defense did play a bit better, allowing just 344 yards, but gave up TD passes of 83, 37 and 33 yards.

An ugly win is still a win, but the Javelinas are going to have to finish on offense if they are to go far this season.  They moved the ball well against ECU (452 yards), but poor field position, four interceptions, and a poor performance in the red zone (4 trips, 1 TD, 2 FGs) resulted in just 27 points (20 for the Javelinas, 7 for the Tigers).  The defense has been stellar in 2010 and now has 7 straight quarters without allowing a score.  The Hogs lead the LSC in rushing (20 yds per game) passing (120.5) and total defense (140.5, with Midwestern State second at 266.5).  ECU started 3 possessions in Javelina territory (2 in the red zone) and came away with 0 points.  The Tigers were able to cross midfield just twice on their own, but on those two occasions did not get closer than the 39 yard line.

This will be the 58th meeting between the oldest LSC rivals.  With Fred Winborn in midseason form, look for the Javelinas to keep moving the ball and to start finding the endzone on a regular basis.  TAMK takes their home opener, 35-20.

Central Oklahoma at Incarnate Word
The Bronchos surprised quite a few people last week, knocking off Tarleton State and letting the LSC North know that they will have a say in the divisional race.  Josh Birmingham was once again effective, rushing for 97 yards and 2 TDs, while catching 5 passes for another 46. He is currently third in the LSC in rushing yards per game and all purpose yards.  Ethan Sharp, hitting 19-24 passes for 190 yards and 2 TDs, while only tossing 1 interception.  The defense was solid giving up just 295 yards and shutting the Texans after taking a 31-21 lead with 10 minutes left in the game.

The reality of the playing in the LSC may have hit UIW last Saturday, as they dropped a 38-19 contest to Southeastern Oklahoma.  The Cardinal defense gave up some big plays, especially in the passing game (3 TDs averaging 72 yards) and were unable to stop the run, giving up 183 yards (6.8 per carry).  The offense was inconsistent, with a couple of good scoring drives, capitalizing when starting in SOSU territory, but also turning the ball over and going through lengthy stretches without scoring.  The Cardinals played three QBs in the game, and really need one to step forward as the clear leader.

There will be a lot of youngsters on the field for this one - 8 sophomores on offense and 9 on defense for UIW, while UCO will counter with 5 sophomores and 1 redshirt freshman on offense and 5 sophomores and 3 redshirt freshmen on defense.  So far, UCO's youngster have competed better, and we'll take them this week as well.  UCO 28-21.

Southwestern Oklahoma at #12 Midwestern State
You have to forgive the Bulldogs if they are looking forward to next year already.  A week after a 77-14 blowout loss to West Texas A&M, and now they get to travel to Wichita Falls and face the Mustangs?  Doesn't seem fair.  After a big loss, you try to find some positives.  The Bulldogs were able to capitalize on a couple of WT mistakes, an interception by Marvin Tribble gave the ball to SWO on the WT 30, and a blocked punt by Tribble set SWO up on the WT 1 yard line.  They would score TDs on both occasions, going 2-2 on red zone opportunities.  Of the 18 other possessions, 9 were 3 plays, and 5 resulted in negative yardage.  After two weeks, SWO is either last or next to last both offensively and defensively for scoring, total yards, rushing and passing.

Midwestern State dispatched Eastern New Mexico with relative ease last weekend, winning a 44-17 contest.  ENMU did keep things close in the first half, pulling to within 24-17 with 5:06 to go in the half, but it was all Mustangs after that, outscoring the Greyhounds 20-0 and putting the clamps on the ENMU offense.  Zack Eskridge had an off night (for him) passing, completing only 15 of 28 passes for 139 yards.  But he made up for it with his feet, leading MSU with 137 yards rushing.  Marcus Mathis continued his hot start, carrying the ball 16 times for 94 yards and a TD.  Chauncey Harris got in the act as well, picking up 63 on just 5 carries.  The defense held ENMU to just 272 passing yards, intercepting Wes Woods 5 times and not allowing a score over the final 35 minutes of the game.  After two week, MSU finds themselves second in the LSC both offensively and defensively in scoring and yardage.

This likely to be the mismatch of the week.  The Mustangs have yet to be challenged and the Bulldogs have yet to challenge.  It won't change this week either.  MSU 52-10.

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