It’s a short week for new and first-time head coach Keith Patterson and the Wildcats as they take on the Lamar Cardinals at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium.
Patterson kicks off a new era with an ACU program that has not had a winning football season since 2018 and only won two of their final seven games last season. Over the offseason, Patterson added numerous freshmen and 19 transfers from both FCS and FBS programs.
One of those transfers is Texas Tech sophomore transfer quarterback Maverick McIvor. McIvor won the job over senior quarterback Peyton Mansell and junior Arizona State transfer Ethan Long.
“You know, in my book it went down to the wire,” Patterson said. “I was really, you know, just kept waiting, boy, they just go back and forth. It just came down to the fact that you just have to make a decision and we’ve made the decision that we felt was best at this particular time. And like I said, we have tremendous confidence in both those young men, more importantly, the type of people they are.”
However, McIvor has not seen the field since Sept. 7, 2018, in a 49-3 win for his San Angelo Central Bobcats over non-district opponent Del Rio Rams. McIvor tore his ACL in the game, costing him his senior year. The following fall at Texas Tech, McIvor suffered another leg injury in preseason that took him out of all but three games. McIvor then served as the backup for the Red Raiders before transferring to ACU this spring.
“It’s been kind of seamless,” McIvor said. “The coaches have really poured into me and I think that all of my teammates have too. It’s been really really good and we’re all starting to gel and mesh.”
Fans can expect to see an air-raid offense led by longtime University of Mary-Hardin Baylor offensive coordinator Stephen Lee. While at UMHB, Lee went 87-4 with 26 of those wins in 2016 and 2017 being vacated due to NCAA infractions. The Crusaders won three national championships in his tenure.
Senior wide receiver Kobe Clark is one of the key offensive returners for Lee and the Wildcats. Clark entered the transfer portal after last season but then ultimately decided to stay a Wildcat.
Clark was an All-WAC preseason selection after grabbing 64 receptions for 741 yards and eight touchdowns last year. To this point in his career, Clark has 205 receptions with current running backs coach Jerale Badon holding the all-time ACU record with 235. Clark also holds the record for most receptions in a season with 87 in 2019.
“He is with the running backs a lot but he has a good knack for the game,” Clark said. “He just knows what’s going on and it’s cool just to see him out here practicing. And if I make a big catch or something, it’s kind of cool to have him just be like, ‘Hey nice catch.’”
On Monday, Patterson confirmed that senior quarterback Peyton Mansell will be moving to safety for his final year as a Wildcat. Patterson said Mansell’s defensive switch allows him to help lead the young Wildcats’ defense.
“He just brings a maturity, a leadership level that we need,” Patterson said. “We have told you since the beginning of fall camp that we’re young on defense. So we felt like we needed somebody that could kind of be a glue guy, someone to bring them together and provide a maturity. And he has definitely done that for our guys and I think he’s going to have a tremendous season.”
Last year ACU rattled off two wins against Lamar including a 56-0 blowout in Beaumont on Sept. 25. On homecoming last year, ACU pulled away again with a 24-17 win. Overall the Wildcats are 13-9 against the Cardinals.
Prior to July 1, this matchup would have counted as a conference game but Lamar decided to head back to the Southland a year earlier than anticipated. The shift forced the WAC and Southland to move quickly to solidify this season’s conference schedules. ACU was slated to finish second out of five in the WAC preseason polls while Lamar is set to finish seventh out of eight in the Southland preseason polls.
“We want to make sure that we protect Wildcat Stadium,” Patterson said. “Our goal is simply to go undefeated at home and then see how many times you can win on the road. We’re going to protect our home. And to do that, to win them all, you have to win the first one.”
The Wildcats and Cardinals kick off at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.