Halfway point: A look at the Texans’ 2021 season so far
This week is a rarity for the Tarleton Texans football program — a bye week.
It's Week 6 of the college football season, and the Texans don't have a game on the schedule. This is the first time since 2007 that Tarleton has a scheduled bye week during the regular season.
Now the team can recharge physically and mentally for the second half of the year, a six-game slate that includes five NCAA Division I opponents, four WAC foes, the No. 1 ranked team in the FCS, the first team outside of the top 25 in the FCS, and the 20th ranked team in Division II.
It's been an up-and-down season for the Texans so far. That much is clear just by looking at the outcomes with no consecutive losses or wins. Tarleton is 2-3 in its second year of reclassification to NCAA Division I, with wins over Fort Lewis and New Mexico Highlands, losses to Stephen F. Austin, Southern Utah and Eastern Kentucky.
Statistically, both sides of the ball have done well. The Tarleton offense has covered 2,061 yards, a mark that would be 16th in the FCS if not for the transition hiatus from leaderboards. The offense averages 6.2 yards per play, a would-be 23rd best in the FCS. On the ground, the Texans have produced 969 yards, a would-be 14th in the FCS, averaging 5.3 yards per run (a would-be 12th). The Texans are averaging 218.4 yards passing per contest at 11.9 yards per completion. Their 1,092 passing yards is second-most in the WAC. The Texans scored 35 points or more in three straight games, going 2-1 in such games, but the span was sandwiched by a 10-point and 3-point output, two losses.
Quarterback Steven Duncan has thrown for 984 yards on 83-of-130 (.639) passing, with six touchdowns and six interceptions in five games. He's also rushed for a touchdown. He has the second-most passing yards in the WAC, along with the second-highest completion percentage. His best game thus far was against Southern Utah, where he tied his career-high of four touchdown passes on 19-of-27 (.704) passing, with a season-high 248 passing yards and season-high 37 rushing yards.
Duncan's top target has been wide receiver Tariq Bitson, who has 21 receptions, 429 yards and three touchdowns. His 429-yard mark is second best in the WAC, just eight yards short of the top spot. He's first in the conference in average yards per catch at 20.4, with receptions of 84 and 53 yards this season. His top game coincides with Duncan's, with Bitson scoring a touchdown on each of the first three drives against Southern Utah. He has two 100+ yard performances this season, too.
On the ground, it's typically a three-man attack with Daniel Wright Jr., Jayy McDonald and Ryheem Skinner. Wright leads the Texans with 380 rushing yards on 60 carries, 6.3 yards per rush, to go with two rushing touchdowns (he also has a receiving TD). Wright is second in the WAC in rushing yards, with McDonald fourth at 251 on 41 carries, 6.1 yards on average, and two rushing scores. Skinner has churned out 197 rushing yards on 33 carries, 6.0 yards per rush, and a touchdown. Add in Khalil Banks, who has two rushing touchdowns to his name.
Defensively, the Texans have only had one not-up-to-standard performance, their matchup against Southern Utah in which they allowed 40 points. Outside of that, no team has scored more than 21 points, with Fort Lewis managing just seven points against the ironclad Texan D. Tarleton has allowed 21.6 points per game, third-fewest in the WAC and would-be 32nd-best in the FCS. The Texans have forced nine turnovers, would-be tied-22nd most in the FCS, with five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a safety.
Five of those takeaways have come via Devin Hafford, who is tied across all of Division I at that mark. Only one FBS player and one other FCS player also have five takeaways on the season. Hafford is only one of two players with multiple games with multiple takeaways, both of whom play in the FCS. Hafford had two fumble recoveries in the season opener against SFA, two interceptions against Southern Utah that included a pick-6, plus an interception in the last contest against EKU.
Linebacker D.J. Harris has been the biggest force on the defense, leading the way with 49 total tackles (22 solo), 5.0 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a forced safety, three quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. He's also one of two Texans to win a Player of the Week award, along with freshman Greg Eggleston Jr. Sitting at 9.8 tackles per game, Harris is on pace for about 108 tackles on the season, coming fairly close to cracking Tarleton's top-10 list for tackles in a single season. Harris is first in the WAC with his 49 tackles and second in tackles per game. He'd have the 14th most tackles in the FCS, if not for reclassification. Fellow linebacker Ronnell Wilson has been his usual wall up the middle too, with the second most tackles at 35, 4.0 for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. At 325 career tackles, he's just four short of taking sole possession of third place on the Texans' career tackles list, and 14 short of sole possession of second place.
The Texans have a great chance to feel great about 2021 with a strong finish over some tough teams. It will take a combination of good play from both their offense and defense in the same game, something they accomplished in both their wins and fell short of in their three losses.
Looking ahead, here's what Tarleton has on the rest of the schedule:
• Away at Dixie State on Oct. 16 – The Trailblazers have struggled out of the gate, sitting at 0-4 on the year. They've been outscored 175-44, having only scored more than seven points once. However, they've faced tough competition, taking on three current top-25 FCS teams in No. 3 South Dakota State, No. 8 UC Davis and No. 18 Weber State.
• Home vs. Midwestern State on Oct. 23 – The Mustangs are 4-1, losing their last game, a road contest at Central Washington, after starting 4-0. They've beaten two top-25 Division II ranked teams in No. 7 Texas A&M-Commerce and No. 17 Angelo State. Their offense has been electric, scoring 30 or more points in four of five games, averaging 33.0 points. Defensively, they're allowing 25.6 points per game.
• Home vs. Sam Houston on Oct. 30 – The defending champion Bearkats have lived up to the billing so far with four straight wins to start the year. Sam Houston is the No. 1 ranked team at the FCS level, earning 24 of 28 first place votes in the latest American Football Coaches Association Poll. Their first two games were blowouts, but their last two have been close, a 10-point victory over then-No. 25 Central Arkansas and a one-point win over SFA.
• Home vs. Lamar on Nov. 6 – The Cardinals have had a strange season. They're 2-2 with wins of 47-3 and 17-10 in overtime, and two brutal shutout losses at 56-0 and 54-0. Lamar's passing game is where the biggest struggle lies, totaling just 364 yards through the air, 91.0 per game, and three touchdowns.
• Away at Abilene Christian on Nov. 13 – The Wildcats were on the positive end of the Lamar 56-0 romping that was just mentioned. Sitting at 3-2, ACU has yet to play a close game this season. They have wins at 62-7, 34-9 and 56-0, and losses at 56-9 and 42-21. The Wildcats are averaging 36.4 points per game, getting nearly 200 yards per game on the ground (198.6).
• Home vs. Central Arkansas on Nov. 20 – The Bears are 2-3 this season, but are just outside the top-25 on the AFCA poll, a point short of the last spot to land at No. 26. They stayed close with No. 1 Sam Houston, losing 45-35, and No. 16 Missouri State, losing 43-34. Their last game was against fellow WAC opponent Abilene Christian, who they beat soundly 42-21. Quarterback Breylin Smith has thrown for 18 touchdowns (tied-most in the FCS) and 1,603 yards (fourth-most in the FCS).