This one won’t be so easy.
After pounding East Central, 44-7, in the season-opener on the gridiron last week, Tarleton State travels to meet NCAA Division I-AA member Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Saturday.
SFA posted a 4-7 record in 2006, but tied for second in the Southland Conference at 4-2. The Lumberjacks’ conference losses were to eventual Southland champ McNeese State by three points, and to rival Sam Houston State by four. The inability to win close games at home was their biggest weakness last fall, dropping five home battles by a combined 20 points.
SFA stressed the pass more than the run on offense in 2006, but that will likely change this fall as J.C. Harper takes over as head coach after serving as defensive coordinator for two seasons. Texas Football Magazine reports Harper plans to be more balanced.
With more touches in the running game, running back Louie Runnels could be a major factor in the Lumberjacks’ offensive scheme. He picked up 709 yards a year ago, and will run behind an offensive line that returns all five starters.
Rest assured, as much as Harper wants to utilize the running attack more, he will still call for plenty of passing with the return of Danny Southall at quarterback. Southall passed for 1,877 yards and eight touchdowns last year, completing two fourth-quarter game-winners along the way. He dropped a 59-yard bomb against Texas State in the fourth for one victory, and sailed a 42-yard scoring pass in the closing seconds of another against Nicholls State. Two Division 1-A transfers at tight end will provide Southall a pair of dangerous targets.
Defensively, the Lumberjacks will be led by returning linebacker Damian Perkins, who tallied 92 stops last fall, including 11 tackles for loss. Also bolstering the line-up will be Bug Aymond, who recorded 67 tackles.
Just like on offense, the men in the trenches may be the Lumberjacks’ greatest strength on defense. The top five starters return, including Tim Knicky and Daimyeon Hoskin. Knicky had four sacks included in his nine tackles for loss, while Hoskin led all SFA linemen with 43 tackles.
Tarleton Head Football Coach Sam McElroy says the Texans won’t be intimidated by the Division I-AA Lumberjacks.
"We’re not just going down there just to play," McElroy said. We’re going down there to win."
One of the advantages a D-I school has over a D-II opponent is the amount of scholarships.
"They have us about two-to-one in scholarships," McElroy said, "But we’ve played a game and they haven’t."
Saturday is the season-opener for the Lumberjacks, which may benefit Tarleton, especially on special teams. The kicking game is the hardest phase to simulate in practice.
As for the depth concerns due to the scholarship difference, the Texans may challenge the Lumberjacks’ depth in one key area.
At running back, Tarleton had three players tote the ball over 50 yards each against East Central, led by Roderick Smith who tallied 114 yards on the ground. Already as deep as most DI-AA backfields, the Texans will become much deeper with the addition of projected starter Michael Sampson, who was named Lone Star Conference Offensive Back of the Year last fall. Sampson missed the East Central game due to an injury, and will also be out Saturday.
The Texans have met Stephen F. Austin 10 times on the gridiron, with the Lumberjacks holding an 8-2 series advantage. Tarleton last defeated SFA in 1975. The two schools have not faced each other since 1998.
For Tarleton, this is the fourth time in the last five years they have played a member of the Division I Southland Conference, and the fifth time they have done so this decade. McElroy used to coach in the in the SLC at Sam Houston State.
Kickoff in Nacogdoches is set for 6 p.m. Saturday. Fans unable to make the trip can listen to the game on the Tarleton Athletics Radio Network, which begins its pre-game show at 5:30 p.m. on Mandatory-FM, 107.9 and 98.5. The game can also be heard on the web at tarletonsports.com.