Texans hope to bounce back against Southwest Baptist in home opener

CALEB MCCAIG cmccaig@empiretribune.com
Tarleton head coach Todd Whitten is excited about his team's home opener Saturday.

Tarleton's Memorial Stadium will likely be at capacity Saturday evening when the Texans take the field for the first time this fall in front of their home crowd.

While appeasing the fans will be on their wish list, the team's primary goal is set on avenging their 33-3 loss last weekend to McNeese State against foe Southwest Baptist. 

Coming off the season opening loss, fans shouldn't be discouraged by the score. McNeese State has proven to be one of the toughest FCS teams in the country over recent years and new head coach Todd Whitten liked what he saw from his team in his first game back at the helm of the Texans. 

"Mainly I thought we fought and played hard. We took care of the ball pretty well, even though we only snapped it 42 times," Whitten said. "We traveled well together as a team and got that first trip under our belt. We know we have a long way to go from here and we all understand that. We're ready to get back out there Saturday and see where we're at."

The Bearcats enter Saturday's game with a 1-0 record after an impressive 49-35 win over Lone Star Conference opponent Eastern New Mexico last weekend. 

With another early test looming, one aspect of the Texans' game that will need to get rolling is their rushing attack. According to Tarletonsports.com, as a team last week in Lake Charles the Texans finished with -5 yards on the ground. However, that was what Whitten mentioned was likely one of, if not the best, front seven a Tarleton team had ever faced. 

"We've got to be able to run the ball and get that going this week. We couldn't do it at all last week. If we can do that then it will open everything else up. We need to be explosive and just like every other week we'll take some shots, but we need to find a way to open things up with our rushing attack," said Whitten.

Another question heading into week two is just what will Tarleton do at the quarterback spot? 

Against McNeese, the Texans used a two quarterback system with Zed Woerner and Garrett Simpson. On the stat sheet it appeared that neither established themselves as the starter and Whitten expects to use the same system Saturday. 

"We're going to use both of them. But if one of those guys comes out with the hot hand then we're likely going to be inclined to stick with them," he said. 

On defense Tarleton, for the most part, held its own against the Cowboys. They did allow 568 total yards, but limiting that yardage to only 33 points was certainly a positive. 

Southwest is bringing a few weapons of their own to town, including running back Bubba Jenkins who rushed for 173-yards in the Bearcats season opening win over Eastern New Mexico. 

Continuing to limit the big play to the team's playmakers is a major key to Tarleton's success moving forward.

"We gave up a few big plays on the night, but we worked hard and limited them. If we were giving them up often then those 33 points would have turned into 50-something or more really quick," said Whitten. 

"Making sure that we focus on containing our opponent is going to be a trend every week." 

When the two teams take the field Saturday there will be a familiar feeling inside the stadium. Whitten will be introduced to the fans and Tarleton family for the third time in his career and will be coaching the team for the first time since 2004. 

Being back brings out an emotion that Whitten is relieved to feel again. 

"It's such a good feeling to be back, this (Tarleton) is one of my favorite places in the world. I've been very fortunate to be around the coaches and players that I've shared that field with. I've won some memorable games there and I can't wait to be back out there," he said.

Kickoff between Tarleton and Southwest Baptist is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.