By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
After handing powerhouse West Texas A&M a 49-33 surprise, the 7-0 Wildcats are three wins away from a 10-0 season and are tied for first place in Conference. But one of three obstacles in the way of the Wildcats’ unblemished season is the experienced defense of Tarleton State.
“A good defense like Tarleton State will squash you,” head coach Chris Thomsen said.
ACU will put its No. 14 national ranking and perfect record on the line against unranked Tarleton State in a Lone Star Conference South Division first place deciding game on Saturday.
In addition to determining first place in the LSC South, the game against Tarleton State has great weight on regional rankings. ACU moved up one spot to fourth in the Southwest region after beating West Texas and is one of six LSC teams ranked in the top 12. Tarleton State moved four spots to seventh.
Although Tarleton is absent from the national polls and is 4-3 this season, they are 3-0 in conference play and have won their last four games in a row.
The Tarleton Texans’ fourth-straight win was a 48-0 blowout over Eastern New Mexico on Oct. 21. Tarleton held ENMU to only 79 yards of total offense, the lowest of any LSC team all year, and climbed to the top of conference defensive rankings after the shutout victory.
One of the biggest contributors to the Texans’ blowout victory was linebacker Eric Smith. Smith is the LSC Defensive Player of the Week for the third week in a row and the fourth time this season.
“They are very disciplined,” Thomsen said. “We need to make plays and execute against them.”
ACU had no problem executing against Tarleton State the last time the two met. The Wildcats surprised the former nationally ranked Tarleton State with an 18-7 victory. This season the roles have reversed, as ACU is ranked and Tarleton is looking to continue its momentum in conference play.
“It’s always a heated rivalry,” wide receiver John Brock said. “They will be ready for us.”
Brock caught four catches for 160 yards and three touchdowns against West Texas and was the main target in quarterback Billy Malone’s six-touchdown performance.
Malone, who tied the ACU and LSC record for touchdowns thrown in a game, already has almost 1900 yards and has thrown 16 touchdowns in seven games. Malone is ranked eight in the nation for total offense and ninth for passing efficiency.
Malone will lead the undefeated Wildcats against the Texans Saturday at Shotwell Stadium at 2 p.m.