by: Alex Welch
The Abilene Christian Wildcats travel to Cleveland, Miss. for a Thursday night matchup at Parker Field-McCool Stadium against the Delta State Statesmen. CSS will be providing coverage with Matt Jones and Rodney Martin calling the game from the booth.
The 2012 season hasn't gone the way most had anticipated it would for these two powerhouses. After losing to Angelo State this past weekend, Abilene Christian dropped from No. 19 to unranked in the AFCA poll. At 2-2 the Wildcats are not listed among the ranked teams of Division II for the first time in 81 weeks.
The Statesmen will be looking to even up their record coming off a loss to North Alabama. At 1-2, their lone win of 2012 came before their bye week against Elizabeth City State, but they've only lost by a single score in both contests this season.
Delta State has never squared off against Abilene Christian. The Statesmen enter with a 3-12 all-time record against Texas teams. However, they hold a record of 16-6 in 22 televised games they've been a part of, proving their ability to step up when playing on a larger stage.
Next season these two teams are slated to play in the house that Jerry Jones built, as they are scheduled for a battle at Cowboys Stadium for the Lone Star ConferenceGulf Coast Conference 1st & 10 Challenge. Who will emerge with bragging rights heading into 2013?
Here's a look at what you should watch for Thursday night:
1) Quarterback back Trevor Wooden leads the Statesmen in passing and rushing yards, averaging 233.7 total yards per game. The junior transfer from Missouri State will need to bring his "A-game" after totaling just 148 yards against North Alabama.
2) Delta State's "Black Shirts" defense is currently ranked 13th in the NCAA in total defense, yielding a total of only 266 yards per game to opponents. This seventh-ranked pass defense will be tested by the aerial assault from the Wildcats.
3) Defensive coordinator Chad Staggs has his squad shutting down opponents on third down, allowing conversions on just 11 of 40 attempts. Teams won't find much success against the Statesmen averaging a 27.5 percent conversion rate in these situations.
4) Senior wideout Lavon Downs leads the Statesmen with 15 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown through three games. He is also averaging 10.3 yards per punt return and an outstanding 38 yards per kick return, displaying his impressiveversatilityfor Delta State.
5) The Statesmen haven't lost two-straight home games since 2001. North Alabama vanquished Delta State at home this past weekend, putting that streak in jeopardy Thursday night.
6) How will the Wildcats respond coming off their Week 4 upset? Abilene Christian isn't used to playing without a ranking next to its name, so first-year head coach Ken Collums will have to rally the troops to get back on pace.
7) Quarterback Mitchell Gale has thrown for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 254 yards per game through the air. He completed 14 of 42 passes in the loss to Angelo State, and even though he isn't receiving much help from his blockers, his completion percentage has to improve. The senior preseason All-American tossed up an average of 36 passes per game in his first four starts.
8) The Wildcats offensive line hasn't come around in 2012. With three new faces among the front five this year, Abilene Christian gave up seven sacks against Angelo State.
9) Junior wideout Taylor Gabriel looks like he could break several receiving records by the end of his career at Abilene Christian. He has 19 catches for 256 yards and four touchdowns on the season, continuing to be a top target for Gale each game.
10) Abilene Christian has outscored opponents 75-31 in the second half this season. The Wildcats will need a stronger finish than last week to fend off the Statesmen.
by: Alex Welch