The Wildcats are off to a 3-0 start for the third straight season. To make it to 4-0, ACU will have to take down one of its biggest rivals in Tarleton State University.
The Wildcats hammered an overmatched East Central University opponent in front of an estimated 8,300 people last Saturday.
After being burned on one big play, the Wildcat defense shut down the Tigers for the remaining 58 minutes of the game.
The Wildcats should aim to repeat the -12 yards rushing they allowed last Saturday. The Tarleton State Texans offense is predicated on the ability to run the ball and control the clock, which is exactly what the ACU defense prevented East Central from doing last week.
“The run defense is really strong this year, really pleased with the defensive front,” said head coach Chris Thomsen.
The Texans are in an unusual position as a team. Tarleton is 0-3 to start the season, but in every game this season it has statistically defeated its opponents in every category but one, turnovers. Tarleton opponents have turned the ball over just twice this season, while the Texans have committed four turnovers.
On the flip side, the Wildcats have forced seven turnovers in their first three games. If trends continue, the ACU defense should impact the game with momentum-changing turnovers, putting the offense in excellent position.
On the offensive side of the ball, ACU hopes to avoid a repeat of last season in which it scored just six points after being in the red-zone three times. Mitchell Gale threw a critical interception in the first half at the Tarleton nine-yard line.
The Texans are not as solid on the defensive side of the ball as they were last year. They are in the bottom half of Division II in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed.
“Last year we really struggled offensively against Tarleton, but I think this year will be better,” said guard Royland Tubbs. “We have had a year to learn the plays and understand them better.”
Cornerback Brandon Johnson and all-American safety Lonnie Buchanan lead a secondary that has allowed just four touchdowns through the air through three games. Edmund Gates and the rest of the receivers should face their toughest challenge of the season against this Tarleton secondary. Gates is currently averaging 78.7 yards per game this season and accounts for 32 percent of ACU’s passing yardage this season.
“I think Tarleton will be the best defense we’ve faced,” said Thomsen. “They have a really good secondary and some fast linebackers.”
Rushing the ball should be a bit easier for the Wildcats if they commit to it early. The Texans have given up 122 yards per game on the ground. Daryl Richardson is expected to be able to play this weekend, but Coach Thomsen will still look to the other running backs, Darrell Cantu-Harkless, Charcandrick West and Josh Morgan, to contribute in the run game. The three combined for 318 yards last weekend against East Central.
This is the division opener for the Wildcats, who have won their previous four division openers. ACU has also won four of the last six meetings between the two rivals.
Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Shotwell Stadium.