TSU aims for first win at WT since 2004

BRAD KEITH brad.keith@empiretribune.com

Don't bother telling Cary Fowler Tarleton State hasn't won at West Texas A&M since 2004. And don't tell him his defense has to figure out a way to stop the best passing offense in the Lone Star Conference.

He doesn't care.

"I'm not scared, I can tell you that," said Fowler, Tarleton's third year head coach. "I know how difficult it is to beat West Texas A&M there; it's difficult to beat them anywhere, but I'm not scared. I like my football team, we've had a great week of practice and we're going to go up there and try to be the more physical football team because I think the more physical team will win."

The Texans (2-1, 1-1) and Buffaloes (3-1, 2-0) are rated in the top four in every major team statistical category in the LSC and meet in a league game at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium in Canyon at 6 p.m. Saturday.

"I love my team right now, that's the attitude I have," said Fowler. "We're youthful, we make mistakes, but we scratch, claw and fight and have been productive. You can't put up more than 550 yards in back-to-back weeks in this league without being pretty dang good."

The Texans had 556 yards in a 34-31 loss to Abilene Christian in the Lone Star Football Festival at Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 15, then posted 564 in last Saturday's 35-23 home victory over Eastern New Mexico.

"We made some mistakes that prevented us from really pulling away, but I thought overall we played pretty well against (Eastern New Mexico)," Fowler said. "They run the option, then run the screen game off it; that's tough on any defense, especially a young one. Then you thrown in that quarterback (Wesley Wood), and I'm telling you, he's pretty good."

Tarleton will have to be pretty good on Saturday, but then again, so will WT.

The Buffs are first in the LSC scoring defense (18.5 points), first total defense (299.0 yards), second in scoring offense (38.8) and third in total offense (486.8). They lead the league with an impressive 371.2 passing yards per game.

But looking at it from the other side, WT is going up against the league's second best total offense (491.3 yards), third best total defense (346.3), fourth best scoring offense (28.7) and fourth best scoring defense (24.7).

So something has to give.

"When it's like that, the first thing I look to is physicality," said Fowler. "I said it before - the more physical team will win Saturday, so we have to go there with the attitude that we're going to be that team. We have to bring the physicality to them."

The Texans lost starting running back Jerome Regal to a broken jaw just after he had taken the LSC lead in rushing yards, only to watch backup Vaughn Smith take over the top spot in the league with 169 yards and two touchdowns last week.

"(Smith) ain't no backup," said Fowler. "We've been talking about his ability to break big plays since the spring. He may not be out there on the first play, but we sure don't look at him as a backup."

Smith, a junior college transfer, sprinted away for a 69-yard TD that clenched the Tarleton win over ENMU.

Zach Henshaw rushed for 113 yards last week, giving the Texans two 100-yard rushers for the first time since Sept. 12, 2009.

"That's a sign our offensive line is playing very well, and they are," Fowler said. "They have to continue that Saturday, because WT has two really good defensive ends and plays great defense all around.

"(WT) executes well, they have great players on both sides of the ball; their just solid," Fowler said. "We can't make youthful mistakes and give them extra opportunities. If we can avoid that, you'll see a great football game and hopefully another Texan win."

Quarterback play will be at the center of everything, with Dustin Vaughn having already passed for exactly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He's completed 65.3 percent for an efficiency rating of 170.1.

Tarleton, of course, answers with the exciting Aaron Doyle, who passed for 377 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for a score against ACU. He has passed for 754 yards in a game less than Vaughn, and has completed 67.9 percent of his passes for four touchdowns. The only negative mark is he's also tossed four interceptions.

"(Vaughn) is a great quarterback; he's big, strong and accurate," Fowler said. "But I like our quarterback, too. Aaron is gaining confidence each week, and he's producing big numbers. It's hard to complain about a guy when he's completing almost 70 percent of his passes."

Fowler knows it will take the best effort of the season from Doyle and the Texans to win at WT, and he also knows what the win would mean for the program. Tarleton hasn't defeated the Buffs at all since that 2004 road win, losing seven straight.

"We're going to have to play the best we've played all season, but I know we can do that, and our players believe we can do it, too," Fowler said. "Any time you have the opportunity to beat a team you haven't beat in a while, it's exciting. If we can pull it off, it would really kick up the excitement around here."

Follow Brad Keith on Twitter @etsports