By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Eastern New Mexico University, already at 2-5, is going into today’s game at Greyhound Stadium without record-setting quarterback J.J. Harp or its No. 2 receiver. And the No. 13 team in Division II is coming into town.
The situation has all the signs of a trap game — or it would, if Sam McElroy believed trap games existed in the Lone Star Conference South, a division where the Texans (6-1, 1-1 South) are one of four nationally-ranked squads.
“In this league, in the South,” said MeElroy, 36-13 in his fifth season at Tarleton, “you better play your best game every Saturday or you’ve got a chance to get beat. We understand that and we think everybody in the league does.”
With an indefinite suspension hanging over the heads of four Greyhounds, including Harp and sophomore receiver Darian Dale, it’s not a good time for the Hounds (0-3 South) to be facing the Texans.
But there never would have been a good time, ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said.
“They’re big, they’re strong, they’ve got experience,” Ribaudo said. “Tarleton is a physical football team. They’re going to hit. Last week (34-24 loss at West Texas A&M) was the most physical game we’ve had, but these guys are going to be even more physical.”
The Texans have been led by their defense, sparked by defensive back Matt Knicky and linebacker Marcus Phillips.
“We haven’t been consistent on offense,” McElroy said. “But when we do execute, we’ve had some success. It hasn’t been bad, just not where we want it to be.”
The Greyhounds’ offense, meanwhile, has slowed since division play began but is still averaging more than 530 yards per game. Part of the reason for the slowdown is a minus-5 turnover margin in three division games.
“We’ve been turning over the ball, but we’re leading the conference in takeaways,” Ribaudo said. “We’re doing good things and we’re doing not-so-good things. We need to do more good things.”
The offense will be turned over for this week — Ribaudo figures the player suspensions will only be for a week — to freshman Wes Wood, who last season threw 64 touchdown passes and led Muleshoe to the school’s first Texas Class 2A state championship.
“He’s been rolling with the 1s this whole week,” Ribaudo said, “and he’s looking pretty good.”
Even though a spread is predicated on timing, McElroy said he expects Wood will do the job.
“We’re going to face a team at Eastern that’s really moving the ball well and is scoring a lot of points,” McElroy said. “Their defense is playing with a lot of excitement and effort.
“We’ve got to keep their offense off the field. If we can take care of the ball and have some success moving it, that will go a long way to help our defense.”
Tarleton State (6-1)
at ENMU (2-5)
6 p.m., Greyhound Stadium.
Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
Coaches: Tarleton State, Sam McElroy, fifth season, 36-13. ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, fifth season, 15-34.
Last meeting: 2008, Tarleton 42-21. The Greyhounds lead the overall series 12-5, but the Texans have won the last five meetings.
Last week: The Greyhounds fell 34-24 at West Texas A&M. Tarleton State rallied from a 21-3 deficit and to beat Midwestern State 31-28 on Garrett Lindholm’s 55-yard field goal as time expired.
Tarleton players to watch: Lindholm, QB Scott Grantham, RB Roderick Smith, WR Devin Guinn, KR Evan Robertson.
Notes: The Greyhounds will be without sophomores J.J. Harp and Darian Dale. Harp, who leads the Lone Star Conference in passing yards, total offense and touchdown passes, and Dale, 39th in Division II in receptions, are two of four players under indefinite suspension for violation of university policy. Freshman Wes Wood, who led Muleshoe to the Texas Class 2A Division I championship last season, will start at quarterback.