Tech-UWA: 3rd Down Conversions Will Be Key

Listen to any football coach speak for any length of time, and eventually the importance of third down will come up. This Saturday’s Gulf South Conference match-up between the West Alabama Tigers (5-2 overall, 3-1 GSC) and the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (3-4, 2-3) figures to be a study in that critical aspect of the game. Kickoff at Tiger Stadium in Livingston, Ala., is set for 6 p.m. Saturday. Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast. Click here to access an Internet stream of the broadcast.

West Alabama’s offense has converted on 45.2 percent of its third down conversion attempts in 2010. That is best in the GSC and 17th-best in all of NCAA Division II. Arkansas Tech’s defense has held opposing offenses to a 25 percent conversion rate on third down. The Wonder Boys lead the GSC and they rank third in NCAA Division II in that category. In other words, West Alabama’s offense is very good at staying on the field and Arkansas Tech’s defense is proficient at getting off the field. Tech head coach Steve Mullins said that the Wonder Boys’ offense has to do its part in order for the Tech defense to have a chance to continue its good work. “What we can’t do is have our offense run three plays, eat up 50 seconds and punt,” said Mullins. “We must establish a running game and make some first downs on our possessions. We have to give our defense a chance. As confident as West Alabama is on offense with its experience and speed, our defense is eventually going to get worn down if we leave them out there too long.” Senior quarterback Deon Williams and junior wide receiver Gerald Worsham lead a Tiger attack that ranks first in the GSC and sixth in NCAA Division II in total offense (485.6 yards per game). Williams has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,367 yards, 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2010. He ranks second in the conference and seventh in the nation in total offense (360.6 yards per game). Worsham leads the GSC in receptions (8.0 per game) and receiving yards (123.6 per game). He is among the top 10 players in NCAA Division II in both of those categories. The bad news for opposing defenses is that the passing game is just part of West Alabama’s arsenal. Freshman running back T-Ray Mitchell ranks second in the GSC in rushing (85.3 yards per game), and perhaps the central factor that makes the entire machine go is Williams’ ability to tuck the ball and run. “This is a strong statement, but every defense lives in fear of (Williams),” said Mullins. “Sometimes people have a tendency to overplay him as they run their zone option and their veer option, and that opens things up for the tailback. I’m not being pessimistic, but every game so far this year (Williams) has scrambled to make big plays. I’m sure that he will scramble and make big plays against us, but we have to keep that to a minimum.” Arkansas Tech counters with a defense that is fifth in the nation stopping the run. The Wonder Boys allow just 66.6 rushing yards per game. Tech held Southern Arkansas to just 24 rushing yards last week in a 35-19 Wonder Boys’ victory.

Arkansas Tech senior linebacker Brandon Wright scored his second defensive touchdown of the year and the team’s fourth defensive touchdown of the season when he returned a fumble 16 yards in the first quarter.

That accounted for the sum of the scoring in the first half, but the Wonder Boys’ offense came alive in the second half behind a revitalized running game. Senior Scharvundrick Franklin, who had one carry for one yard in the first half, finished with 16 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown.

Franklin’s 25-yard run to the end zone with 4:43 left in the fourth quarter helped Tech stop a Mulerider comeback bid and earn its fourth consecutive Homecoming win.

“The only way you establish an identity is to be consistent in what you do,” said Mullins. “We’re still searching, but it would be wonderful if we could carry that toughness forward and establish a consistent running game.”

West Alabama is led defensively by junior middle linebacker Gabe Poe. He has made 64 tackles this season. No other Tiger has more than 36 stops in 2010.

After visiting West Alabama, the Wonder Boys will return home to host nationally-ranked Valdosta State for a 2 p.m. contest at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field in Russellville on Saturday, Oct. 30.