Undefeated Gorillas all business
Michael Bauer | Sports Editor
For the Pitt State football team this season, every away game is being treated as business trip.
This is not only because they have more away games than home games but also because the Gorillas will be spending the rest of October playing the toughest portion of their schedule away from Pittsburg.
PSU’s destination this weekend: Warrensburg, Mo. against Central Missouri’s Mules.
Red October? Meh
It will be the first of three consecutive trips with Northwest Missouri State set for next weekend at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. as Missouri Western State awaits for the following week in St. Joseph, Mo.
For some teams, this would be considered a murderer’s row, but some players are finding a silver lining.
“I like away games, personally. It gives me more time to think,” fullback Scott Lester said.
Road game or not, the Gorillas are preparing the same way they have for every other opponent by taking it one game at a time.
“We just have to look at this week and then on Sunday, we’ll take care of the next one,” head coach Tim Beck said. “We’ve got to make sure our guys are focused on Central Missouri.”
Kicked like a mule
The Mules enter the contest with a 2-3 record, which includes a loss, 21-14 to Missouri Southern State last weekend.
Last year, UCM gave the Gorillas a scare in a close encounter, 30-21, in which PSU had to come from behind to win.
The Mules don’t appear to be as strong this year compared to this time last season when they entered the contest with a 4-1 record that included a win over NMSU.
Yet, it must be said that Central Missouri’s two other losses this season were three and four-point decisions to MWSU and Northwest Missouri, respectively.
Led by running back LaVance Taylor, the Mules are averaging 397.2 yards per game of total offense and 96.8 yards per game on the ground.
Taylor has compiled 289 yards on 72 carries with one touchdown through the first five games.
He rushed for a season-high 101 yards and caught one pass for 37 yards against Lindenwood last month.
“LaVance is very dangerous. You let him pop a draw then he can make you pay because he is fast,” Beck said. “We have to pay attention to what they are doing.”
The Mules may seem fairly balanced on offense, but Beck is anticipating UCM to bring on their running game in the first half.
“There’s going to be a point in the first or second quarter where they try to get their running game established,” Beck said. “That’s where we have to force them to be one-dimensional.”
Taking the snaps for the Mules will be Hayden Hawk. The junior quarterback has completed 124 of 185 passes for 1,482 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception. In Central Missouri’s win, 47-28, over Lindenwood, Hawk completed 31 of 39 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns.
Hawk’s favorite target is wide receiver Ronrei Lloyd. Llyod has caught 34 passes for 538 yards and five touchdowns. Against Northwest Missouri, he caught eight passes for 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Ready for a shootout
In the Gorillas’ victory, 28-20 over Abilene Christian, PSU outrushed ACU 185 yards to 10. Abilene Christian spent most of the time passing the ball and finished with 260 yards.
PSU is expecting a parallel offensive scheme in Central Missouri but with more formation changes.
“There are a few similarities, (but they’re) a lot different in what they do by formations. They really try to do a lot of shifting and change formations, a lot more complicated in terms of sets,” Beck said. “They are committed to throwing the football which can cause some problems because we know their running back, LaVance Taylor is as fast as anybody in the conference.”
Defense an obstacle
But PSU will look to adjust accordingly to the Mules’ offense.
“They do run the ball a little bit more and have a scary back, but I think we’re going to get more of the four-man front and we’ll see how it goes,” defensive end Avery Adair said.
On defense, linebacker Ricky Spratley, who has recorded 41 tackles and two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, leads the Mules.
“They’re based out of 4-3 but they have a lot of good skilled guys,” Beck said. “Defensively, they do a good job in red zone and on third and long. They’re as good as anybody we’ve seen in that situation.”
Defensive tackle Ramond Hunter has led the Mules with 5.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks. He has also recorded 19 tackles on the season.
“They have a good defense,” Lester said. “They’re very physical so we’re going to try to be more physical than they are.”
The Gorillas will enter the game undefeated at 5-0 and carrying a No. 10 spot in the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division II poll.
It might be the first of three straight road games, but according to PSU, it’s business as usual.
“Our mantra this year is to teach every away game like a business trip,” Lester said. “We’re not going up there to have fun. We’re just going there to get a win. When you treat it like a business trip, you’ll be fine.”