By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
As history would indicate, Angelo State football coach Jerry Vandergriff doesn’t have much to worry about going into Saturday’s ASU Homecoming game against ACU. After all, throughout his 22 seasons coaching the Rams, he has lost to the Wildcats just five times. Even worse, ACU hasn’t won in San Angelo since a 23-9 victory in 1983.
But for some reason, the veteran coach with a 140-88-2 ASU record isn’t too excited about Saturday’s Lone Star Conference South Division matchup with the 2-3 Cats.
“Homecoming is always a big deal,” Vandergriff said. “But I’d much rather be entertaining someone besides Abilene for it. They’re a strong team and they’ve been in every game they’ve lost. We haven’t shown the same strength they’ve got.”
Indeed, the Rams haven’t performed as powerhouse Angelo State teams of the past, starting off their 2003 campaign with a 2-4 overall record and a 1-1 mark in the LSC South. Opponents have outscored the Rams 189-92, and their two victories-both at home- totaled a five-point spread. Last week, Eastern New Mexico held ASU to 104 net yards in a 31-0 blanking in Portales, N.M.
“Last week we got clobbered by a team Abilene had beaten,” Vandergriff said. “That’s a great concern for us.”
But statistics and tabulations aside, ACU head coach Gary Gaines said the 7 p.m. showdown in San Angelo Stadium will be a good one.
“They’ll be ready for us, I can tell you that,” Gaines said. “They’ve had some tough luck this season, but they’ve definitely had the upper hand in this series. We’ve always had trouble moving the ball against them.”
This season, however, the Rams rank dead last in LSC total defense, surrendering 461.7 yards a game. ACU’s offense, comparatively, ranks fourth in the 13-team conference with 358 yards gained per game. Angelo State’s offense ranks 12th with 245.7 yards a game, while ACU’s defense ranks 10th with 343.2 yards allowed a game.
“I think it’s about to be a breakout game for us,” ACU senior wide receiver DaRay Sims said.
Sims, a preseason all-American who injured his ankle in a Sept. 20 loss to Tarleton State, will start Saturday for the first time since the injury.
“I’m about 94, 95 percent,” Sims said. “I feel a little bit better than I was.”
Sims, who has nine receptions this season for 102 yards and two touchdowns, said he has been watching game film of ASU’s defense all week looking for ways to exploit it.
“I’m going to try to sing them with the short pass and go deep when they least expect it,” he said.
With senior starting tailback Richard Whitaker up in the air for Saturday’s game, senior starting quarterback Colby Freeman (65 of 148, 864 yards, four touchdowns) might have to air the ball out more than usual. One potential concern with ACU’s passing attack, however, is that of dropped passes. In the last two games, the team has dropped a total of 17.
“It’s kind of like a hitter being in a slump,” Gaines said. “We can’t let a few dropped passes keep us from going to the air. We just have to work through it.”
On the other side of the ball the Wildcat defense should give ASU’s offense fits. Vandergriff is unsure whether senior Kyle Hardin or freshman Sol Southall will get the starting nod at quarterback (the usual starter Hardin hurt his shoulder last week at ENMU), but either one will probably see a lot of ACU junior linebacker Randall Webb. The Texas A&M transfer has spent almost as much time in opponents’ backfields as their own ball carriers, and leads the entire LSC with 11.2 tackles per game.
But the most important statistic, said Gaines, is who comes out on top Saturday.
“This is a big game for them and a big game for us,” he said. “Somebody’s going to have three victories afterward, and I hope it’s us.”