Monday, October 24, 2011

Booth Review: ACU've Got Mail

The New Pony Express galloped into Wichita Falls Saturday night with a message. It was delivered personally to ACU but addressed to the entire Lone Star Conference and consisted of this solitary line:

There's a new sheriff in town.

The Midwestern State Mustangs, they of the nation's No. 1-ranked offense - not to mention that catchy, aforementioned nickname - rode over, around and through the ACU defense and didn't stop until they had laid a whoopin', the likes of which the Wildcat football program had never in 90+ years suffered.

The 70-28 rout - it was every bit as dominant as that score would indicate - leaves Midwestern alone in first place in the Lone Star Conference. Barring a loss to West Texas A&M in two weeks, the Mustangs will unseat ACU as conference champs. They earned it Saturday night.

70 points! The most ACU has ever surrendered in a non-overtime game.

740 yards of total offense! The most an ACU team has ever allowed in any game - overtime, playoff, Xbox 360.

And make no mistake: this wasn't about an emotional letdown or resting on the laurels from the big Homecoming win over West Texas A&M the previous Saturday. The Wildcat offense actually won the toss, elected to receive and marched 80 yards in six plays for a 7-0 lead. No, this was about a Midwestern State offense that none of its seven opponents have come close to even slowing down, much less stopping.

That the Mustangs have now run roughshod over a playoff-caliber opponent - its previous opponents' record was 15-26 - drives the message home at an ear-splitting decibel level.

After processing what happened Saturday night, it would seem to me that the only defense capable of slowing this team down is one that is excessively large (and, thus, less likely to get thrown to the curb like yesterday's trash) or exceptionally fast (and, thus, able to catch Mustang runners when they get to the edges). ACU's defense is neither small nor slow but neither are they really big and really fast.

Five Midwestern runners gashed ACU for 436 rushing yards in every way imaginable. Senior Lester Bush is the bowling ball who steers clear of the gutters and runs straight for the head pin. Freshman Jimmy Pipkin, who at 6'0" looks even a foot taller, is the edge rusher who hurdled a Wildcat defender on an eye-popping 45-yard dash. Sophomore Keidrick Jackson isn't as picky: he can beat you north and south or around the corner.

The offensive line, led by a projected early-round NFL draft pick in Amini Silatolu, is ginormous and quick, opening holes for the runners and providing plenty of protection in the passing game.

But Brandon Kelsey is the trigger man. The junior QB rushed for 114 yards - including a 64-yard scamper on 2nd and 9 after ACU had cut the lead to 35-14 early in the 3rd quarter. He also threw for a very efficient 205 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

I said on the play-by-play broadcast Saturday night that if there is a better team in the country, I'd like to see it. As of now at least, there isn't one better in Super Region 4. The first regional rankings of the 2011 season were released Monday and Midwestern is No. 1 at 7-0. ACU is currently No. 5 and, with the top six at season's end making the playoffs, still in position to reach the postseason for a sixth straight year.

But a second straight conference title and third in four years was most likely marked "Return to Sender" after what the New Pony Express brought Saturday. The change of address in conference champions has nothing to do with character and effort. ACU exhibited those qualities even in that record-setting defeat.

What Midwestern proved Saturday is that this year's Lone Star Conference is all about the horses.

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