By Dave Wagner
Texas A&M-Commerce is coming off a discouraging home loss to West Texas A&M, and at 1-6 is not having even close to the kind of season it envisioned.
Still, Eastern New Mexico University coach Bud Elliott isn’t about to take the Lions lightly in Saturday’s 1 p.m. Lone Star Conference South Division clash at Blackwater Draw.
“This’ll be a tough game, I don’t have any doubt about that,” said Elliott, whose team has lost two of its last three after a 4-0 start. “I told our players I don’t want anyone talking about (playoff) scenarios or anything like that. Right now, if we don’t win this game, we won’t be a playoff contender.”
Eastern (5-2, 1-2 South) will try to get its ship righted after its second 24-14 road loss in three weeks, this one to Midwestern State.
Meantime, the Lions (0-2 South) are just trying to get something going after their 30-17 pummeling at the hands of WT, which ended the Buffaloes’ 24-game conference losing streak.
“I think it’s going to be a good football game,” Commerce coach Eddie Brister said. “(Eastern’s) defense plays as hard as any I’ve seen. It’s hard to find one guy on defense taking a single play off.”
Elliott said the Lions have far better talent than their record indicates.
“I think their defensive line is as good as any in the Lone Star,” he said. “They’re last in the Lone Star in defense against the pass, but we’re not a great passing team.”
TAMC’s pass defense stats took a beating from WT’s Derek Maupin, completed 43 of 64 for 439 yards.
So thoroughly did the Buffs dominate that Commerce needed two touchdowns in the final 7 1/2 minutes just to make the score respectable.
The Lions were coming off a tough stretch in the three weeks before the WT game with losses to unbeaten Central Oklahoma (24-21), twice-beaten Southeastern Oklahoma (31-6) and once-beaten and fifth-ranked Texas A&M-Kingsville (31-7). In all of those games, Brister said, turnovers and breakdowns contributed to their downfall.
Brister said he sensed his team didn’t have the same intensity in preparing for WT as it had in the previous three games.
“We have a good (returning) nucleus,” he said. “We thought we had a tough schedule, but we felt like we matched up well against it.”
Elliott said he’s also at a loss to explain TAMC’s struggles.
“They’ve got good-looking athletes on offense, but there’s something missing,” he said. “I just hope they don’t find it this week. I’m sure at the beginning of the year, with the athletes they have, they thought they’d be pretty competitive.”
Meantime, the Hounds need to get back on track. They simply can’t afford another slip-up.
“We need to come out ready to go,” Elliott said. “I think it’s really important that we get off to a good start against them.”