Texans start tough slate with No. 4 Midwestern

BRAD KEITH brad.keith@empiretribune.com
Aaron Doyle

As if Tarleton State head coach Cary Fowler didn't draw up a difficult enough schedule, the powers that be had to ensure the Texans would face defending Lone Star Conference champion Midwestern State right off the bat.

"It's Our season opener and we get the No. 4 team in the country," said Tarleton head coach Cary Fowler. "That's about right for this schedule, though. We're facing teams like this week in and week out. There are no off weeks on this schedule."

Midwestern raced through its first undefeated regular season in school history last year, and was ranked No. 1 in the American Football Coaches Association poll entering the playoffs. They had a bye through the first round before being upset by Northwest Missouri State in the second round.

In the LSC, the Mustangs reigned supreme, having to survive just one true scare in a 44-38 home win over Texas A&M-Kingsville.

With quarterback Brandon Kelsey returning after passing for 1,951 yards and rushing for 967, and 1,044 yard rusher Keidrick Jackson also back, the Mustangs bring a ton of momentum into the 2012 season.

But so does Tarleton, and Fowler isn't afraid to remind everyone of just that.

"We have momentum, too. We won our last five football games last year," he said. "We got off to a slow start, but we were still coming together as a team and as a program. These guys are excited about this week and the opportunity to continue that streak into a new year. Who better to do it against than the defending champs of the LSC?"

That doesn't mean Fowler doesn't have respect for Midwestern, where he was defensive coordinator before coming to Tarleton in the same role in 2008.

"Midwestern has a great team. We all know what their offense can do and the pinball numbers they put up last year running the football," he said. "But their good defensively, too."

Tarleton saw how good in a 44-13 loss in a game delayed by weather at rain-soaked Wichita Falls last year. The Texans needed a TD on a kickoff return to crack double digits in the loss.

The top returning players from the Mustang unit are safety Pat Gardner with 56 stops a year ago, linebacker Matt Elderbock with 49 and defensive back Neiko Conway with 46.

Tarleton will attack the Mustangs out of a look similar to the "Air Raid" the Texans employed last year, but with more balance under new offensive coordinator Justin Carrigan.

Quarterback Aaron Doyle runs the show and has Clifton Rhodes and and Jeken Frye back to throw to. Doyle also sports 4.4 speed and was athletic enough to receive Division I recruiting attention as a linebacker when he was in high school at nearby Evant.

"He's going to have options to run the ball. We'll run the zone-read with Doyle, we have to," Fowler said.

The Texans have their top defenders back in All-American cornerback Dashaun Phillips and preseason All-American linebacker Marquis Wadley.

"It's been a long camp with a lot of competition at a lot of positions," said Fowler, who claims to have the fastest team he's ever coached. "We have a lot of good football players and we've been battling just trying to get the right guys in the right spots on the field and the depth chart.

"But we've got the talent to do some great things," he added. "And we have a great opportunity ahead of us Saturday night."

Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports