Greetings, Lion fans, and welcome to a brand new week and new opponent. Things seem to be settling to a typical fall week, especially here at The Wire. Let’s dive right in and take a closer look at the Midwestern State Mustangs. First, though, let’s have a quick review of last week’s win over Colorado State-Pueblo.
A LOOK BACK-At first glance, a 12-6 win over the 12th ranked Thunderwolves might seem what baseball Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa might call “winning ugly”, but a win it was, the kind a team has to have, especially in difficult circumstances like there were last Thursday, in order to win a championship. Good teams find a way to win those. And your Lions are that good.
Upon closer inspection, however, it was a dominating performance by the Lions, especially by the Blue Gang defense. The Thunderwolves were held to 15 net total yards rushing, and just 155 yards total offense overall. It was, as former Lion receiver Billy Minor would say, “championship level” defense. Pueblo was never able to sustain a drive all night, and the only explosive play they had came late on a deep pass that was a 50/50 ball. The defense was able to recover, and thwart any hopes of a Thunderwolf comeback
Offensively, despite the lack of an offensive touchdown, the Lions were able to avoid any procedural and pre snap penalities. The offensive line began to jell as the game went along, and holes began to open for the Lion running attack. Newcomer Jaiave Magalei began to gain confidence, and the offense began to work out the kinks. Furthermore, the Lions were facing the number 5 overall defense in the country in Pueblo, so the majority of the offensive struggles were understandable. There were no issues that couldn’t be fixed, and fixed quickly.
All in all, a good win. Now, on to this week.
OVERVIEW-The Mustangs come into this rivalry renewal on the heels of a 48-27 win over Quincy University. Midwestern broke open a 21-20 game at the half with four turnovers, and seven quarterback sacks to get the win. Senior Dillon Sterling-Cole seems to have settled in at quarterback, and the Mustang offense was able to take advantage of the short field and be very productive offensively.
The Achillies Heel of the Mustangs appears to be the defense. Quincy, a 5-6 member of the Great Lakes Valley conference in 2019. was able to put up 506 yards of total offense, 394 yards of which came in the passing game. If not for the four turnovers, which included a Mustang pick six, this might have been a much closer game than at first glance. The Mustang defense, while well stocked with upper classmen (nine total), still seem to have some work to do.
UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE-
Lion Offensive Line: 6’4″ 308 lbs.
Mustang Front Seven: 6’2″ 232 lbs.
The Lions hold a definite size advantage here. The Mustang defensive line is anchored by senior defensive end Melik Owens (6’2″ 225 lbs.) and are led in tackles by senior defensive end Jaylon Abdul-Karim (6’4″ 220 lbs.) who totaled 7 solo tackles along with a sack last week. Senior linebacker Rigoberto Carrillo (6’1″ 220 lbs.) follows with 6 tackles (4 solo). The Mustangs trade size for speed and quickness. It paid off to the tune of seven total quarterback sacks against Quincy last week.
The Lion offensive line began to jell and improved as the game went along. The wind conditions in Colorado made passing the ball a nightmare, and the Lions found the going rough early. Some timely adjustments, and sheer strength and size began to take their toll, and the holes began to open, and drives were sustained. While happy with the win, both position coaches and players alike saw much room for improvement.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE-Senior running back Antonio Lealii’ee led the Lion running attack with 79 yards on 10 carries, including a 24 yarder. The three pronged attack that included seniors E.J. Thompson (5’9″ 196 lbs.,) and Carandale Hale (5’11” 190 lbs.) eventually wore down the Pueblo defense.
Junior Jaiave Magalie had a so so night statistically, 12-28, 111 yards, with a long of 18, but of utmost importance, did not turn the ball over. He showed good poise and decision making in the pocket and showed flashes of being an effective runner.
As has been recent Lion fashion, the ball was spread around to several receivers and veterans Chance Cooper and Matt Childers led the group with a pair of catches each. A pleasant surprise was freshman Jaden Proctor, who had 4 catches for 20 yards. Newcomers Kenedy Snell and Kevin Ledee showed flashes of good things to come.
Take heart, Lion fans. Remember, in 2017, the Lion offense, with all time great Luis Perez, struggled in the opener against North Alabama, also failed to score an offensive touchdown, and escaped with an 8-7 win on the backs of an equally stout defense and the leg of Kristov Martinez. The problems that showed last week are the kind easily fixed in the film room and solid practice reps.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED-What else can be said about senior kicker Jake Viquez? With his 4-4 performance last week, including a personal best 52 yard field goal, Viquez earned LSC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. There was a debate on the Lion sideline as the third quarter clock ran out on whether to allow Viquez to attempt a 58 yard field goal. With the wind at his back, it was a real possibility. After Lion punters Mitchell McGarry and Emanuel Adagbon struggled with the windy conditions, Viquez was called upon to handle the punting chores, and he came through in the clutch.
Lion fans, this was no small feat. The conditions in Pueblo were extremely, and I mean extremely difficult, to deal with. If you were able to watch the live stream, you could see it. Officials would spot the ball, and it would roll two yards. Kickoffs had to have a holder. It was just miserable, and all of the Lion kickers, as well as special teams coordinator Jack Welch, are to be commended for their efforts in dealing with a difficult situation.
The Mustang return game is led by redshirt sophomore receiver Ja’Markeya Arvie (5’6″ 170 lbs.), who had a pair of returns for a 16 yard average, with a long of 21 yards. Senior receiver Kylan Harrison (6’1″ 190 lbs.) had one return of 29 yards.
WHAT’S GOING DOWN-The key for the Lion offense this week is very simple…ball security. The Lions did not have single turnover last week. The offensive line must, and should, continue to jell, keeping Magalie upright and opening holes for the running attack. If they’re able to do that, then this game could get real ugly, really early. The Mustang defensive problems that became apparent in 2019 still seem to remain in surrendering over 500 total yards to a Quincy University team that had a losing record.
That being said, this is still Bill Maskill’s Midwestern State Mustangs, and returns as the Lions biggest rival with the departure of Tarleton State to the WAC. Strange things always seem to happen when the Lions and Mustangs get together. Remember 2018?
This is shaping up to be a good one, fans. A game deserving of a palace like The Ballpark in Arlington(Choctaw Stadium).
See You Saturday.