A great quarterback, a great offense. Tarleton State will see a lot of both this season, and tonight’s season opener against Arkansas-Monticello is no exception.
The 2009 season kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium as the Texans of the Lone Star Conference host the Boll Weevils of the Gulf South Conference.
“Having a Thursday night game during the first week of school always provides a great atmosphere because so many students come out to the game,” said fifth-year Tarleton head coach Sam McElroy, who is 30-12 at the helm of the program. “A lot of students go home on the weekends. This gives them the opportunity to be a part of our opener and we certainly enjoy having as many of them as possible come out and support us.”
For Tarleton, it is the beginning of what locals are hoping will be the school’s 10th consecutive winning season. Arkansas-Monticello, meanwhile, is looking to continue building on last season’s 7-4 mark after going just 6-27 in the previous three years. Both schools are looking to climb the ladder in their respective conferences after finishing just below the national powers that have topped each league’s standings in recent years.
For the Texans, that means finding a way to surpass 2008 LSC champ Abilene Christian and 2005-07 champ West Texas A&M, as well as Texas A&M-Kingsville, which took third in the South Division of the LSC last year and has won a record 26 league titles. Tarleton was 8-3 last season, with all three losses coming to the aforementioned South powers.
Ark.-Monticello was 7-4 a year ago, and came within nine points of finishing 9-2 as members of the league that is widely believed to be the toughest NCAA Division II conference in the nation. Three of the Boll Weevils’ defeats came at the hands of GSC and national powers Delta State, North Alabama and Valdosta State. They also fell to Arkansas Tech.
“(Ark.-Monticello) has done a tremendous job of turning their program around in a tough league,” McElroy said. “There is no question that is a solid conference, especially when you look at the success they’ve had in the playoffs.”
The Boll Weevils are led by Harlon Hill Trophy candidate Scott Buisson, a junior quarterback who was the 2008 GSC Offensive Player of the Year. Buisson passed for 2,700 yards and rushed for 1,300 last year, giving him a hand in 4,000 total yards of offense. He posted the best single-game stats of any dual threat quarterback in NCAA history when he passed for 400 yards and rushed for 200 in a 51-48 win against Henderson State.
“He is a tremendous athlete both running and throwing,” McElroy said of Buisson. “He will be as good as we’ll see this year as far as dual threat quarterbacks are concerned.”
While the Boll Weevils will likely go only as far as Buisson can carry them, McElroy is also quick to point out their other offensive weapons.
“They have good, fast receivers and talented backs,” he said. “Their backs aren’t big, but they are fast, and they have a big offensive line in front of them.”
When the Texan offense, led by third-year starting quarterback Scott Grantham, third-year starting receiver Devin Guinn and LSC South Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Roderick Smith at running back, has the ball, McElroy suspects they will see UAM attempt to bring heavy pressure from all angles.
“Their defense relies a great deal on bringing pressure and they bring it from all over the field,” he said. “They have tremendous speed on that side of the ball.”
Grantham will be without one of his primary targets as tight end Tanner Maher is out at least the first two games with a broken hand. The tight end position, especially with Maher in the lineup, is one new offensive coordinator Scott Carey hopes to utilize more in the passing attack this season.
The Texans will have three pivotal returning starters on the field who sat out during the team’s two preseason intrasquad scrimmages. Smith, second-team all-conference defensive end Jamaal Steamer and defensive tackle Ben Taifane will all be in the starting lineup, according to McElroy.
Tarleton is looking for its third straight season-opening and home-opening win after knocking off East Central 44-7 in 2007 and Southeastern Oklahoma State 51-10 last year. The Texans are 7-2 in home openers this decade.
The Texans and Boll Weevils are meeting for the fourth time on the gridiron, the first since 1992 when UAM won 39-32 in Monticello, Ark. UAM leads the series 2-1.