The Wildcats are looking to move to 9-0 this weekend when they host long-time rival Angelo State in the first ever State Farm Big Country-Concho Valley Shootout.
Despite its 3-4 record, Angelo State played well in its four losses. The Rams nearly saw a comeback against West Texas in their third game of the season, falling 37-27. Angelo was even with the Texas A&M-Kingsville Javelinas deep into the fourth quarter, until a late touchdown pushed Kingsville to a 28-21 win.
With that in mind, head coach Chris Thomsen and the rest of his team aren’t taking the Rams lightly.
“They had a chance to beat West Texas, they had Kingsville 21-21 in the fourth, they had Midwestern tough in the fourth quarter,” Thomsen said. “You can’t just look at their record – you have to look at how close they’re playing the top teams.”
The Wildcats do have big game experience on their side after winning three top-10 games this season.
ACU will have to contend with Angelo quarterback Josh Neiswander if it wants to maintain its perfect record. Neiswander has all the physical tools and the mental ability to wreak havoc on opposing defenses. His 16 touchdowns to five interceptions represent one of the top interception ratios in the Lone Star Conference.
The ACU secondary will have to contend with some explosive receivers at Neiswander’s disposal. V’Keon Lacey and Dakarai Pecikonis lead the receiving core with a combined 61 catches and 951 yards.
Aston Whiteside and the rest of the front seven will have to get past a Rams’ offensive line that has allowed just four sacks all season. Left tackle Conner Cook and left guard Andrew Krutsinger anchor a mixed offensive line when it comes to experience.
On the offensive side of the ball the Wildcats should be able to continue to put up points against an average Rams defense.
Mitchell Gale has had five touchdowns in his last two games and 27 on the season with just one interception. Gale’s decision making has propelled the Wildcats to the No. 10 passing offense in the country. Edmund Gates should be able to continue his streak of consecutive 100-yard games against a pass defense that has allowed 259 yards per game passing, the 114th worst in Division II.
“Mitch has really come along and I think we have a lot of threats at all offensive positions,” senior linebacker Casey Carr said.
ACU will need to rely on Kendrick Johnson, who has played a large role both in the passing game and the return game. Johnson’s 381 yards receiving this year are second on the team behind Gates.
The biggest factor in the game for both sides will be special teams.
Although the Rams don’t have the touchdown numbers the Wildcats do on special teams, Angelo State leads the LSC in kickoff returns and punt returns, with a total of three touchdowns. The Wildcats’ remedy to that should be Spencer Covey, who leads the LSC in touchbacks this season.
Questions remain as to who will kick this week on ACU’s special teams. Ryan Owens filled in for Morgan Lineberry, who missed last week with an injury. Owens nailed a 53-yard field goal with the wind at his back but missed an extra point in the game. If Lineberry can’t go this week, the kicking game will be up to Owens once again.
Angelo leads the all-time series against ACU with 28 wins, but the Wildcats have won three of the last five games in this bitter rivalry.
Kickoff for the State Farm sponsored game is set for 2 p.m. at Shotwell Stadium.