By Jared Fields, Sports Editor
The Wildcats will play their home finale against No. 21 Texas A&M-Kingsville at 2 p.m. Saturday in Shotwell Stadium. ACU is coming off upsetting formerly No. 19 Tarleton State in Stephenville, 18-7.
The Javelinas come into Saturday’s matchup with the No. 1 defense in the Lone Star Conference, allowing 326.4 yards per game. Kingsville also boasts two preseason first team all-American players selected by d2football.com. Senior linebacker Deandrae Fillmore and defensive lineman Wilbert Martin lead the Javelinas’ defense.
“They’ve got two all-American guys who are good, and then they know how to get to the ball-they’re fast,” sophomore offensive lineman Nathan Young said. “It takes perfect execution, good technique, as big as they are.”
Fillmore leads the LSC in tackles, with 12.4 tackles per game and in fumbles forced, with a total of four on the year. He is second in the league in tackles for loss, with 1.81 per game, behind ACU’s Clayton Farrell, with 2.31 per game.
“They’re the best defense we’ve faced,” ACU head coach Chris Thomsen said. “[They are] big and strong up front and good in the secondary. They’ll be a big time challenge for us.”
However, the Wildcats have performed well against other highly rated defenses in the league. Texas A&M-Commerce is ranked second in the league in total defense and Tarleton State third, but the Wildcats have beaten both teams. ACU beat Commerce 27-18 in its third game of the season and last week defeated Tarleton State 18-7.
“You’re facing the top team and the top defense, and you gear your game plan to what you think you can do,” Thomsen said. “And we think we can do some things.”
One of those things involves giving redshirt freshman Nick Bird his first collegiate start over Billy Malone, who has started every game this season.
“We’ve just got to be smart with the things we do with him, not put him in a bad situation,” Thomsen said. “He did a good job last week protecting the ball-he’s shown he can do that.”
Another player who’s shown he can take care of the ball to Thomsen is freshman running back Taber Minner, who has seen an increase in playing time and carries after senior Rashon Myles, who went down with an ankle sprain. Minner carried the ball 31 times for 158 yards in last week’s win with no fumbles. Minner will continue to see more carries if he continues to take care of the ball, and Myles is injured.
Thomsen said Myles will be a game-time decision about his playing time. He is practicing this week, but still fighting through the injury, Thomsen said.
For the Wildcats’ defense, Thomsen said the main goal is to stop the run like last week. Javelinas running back Raymorris Miller rushed for 142 yards in their win against Eastern New Mexico, and quarterback Joey Pena threw for 246 yards, completing 18 of 22 passes.
“We have got to stop the run like we did last week and force them into third and medium and third and long situations,” Thomsen said. “Then see if we can put some pressure on them and force them to turn the ball over. That’s the main thing defensively, like we did last week.”
Saturday’s game is the Wildcats final home game. Their final game is at 1 p.m. Nov. 5, at Midwestern State.