The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association should be feeling pretty good about heading into this week with its televised MIAA Game of the Week because it could be the best game they have shown on television so far this season.
The MIAA game of the week for week four features the Fort Hays State University Tigers (2-1, 2-1 MIAA) traveling to Pittsburg to take on No. 8 Pittsburg State University Gorillas (3-0, 3-0 MIAA).
The Tigers’s record is 2-1 following a 20-7 win over Lindenwood Unversity (1-2, 1-2 MIAA) last week at home.
The Gorillas have looked every bit of that number eight ranking and then some. Their offense starts fast and their defense punishes their opponents.
Anthony Abenoja is the ignition switch to an offense that has scored 117 points already this season and outscores their opponents by two touchdowns in the first quarter alone.
Abenoja, who is the best quarterback in the MIAA in efficiency standards, has distributed his 38 completions so far this season between 11 different wide outs with Marquise Cushion leading the way with 16 receptions, which is fourth in the conference and first in yards per catch at 22 yards a reception. The Tiger secondary is going to have to keep an eye out for him for the duration of the game.
This pass first offense is second in the MIAA with nearly 300 yards through the air a game. While they may look to pass first with Abenoja at the helm of the offense and some of the most athletic wide outs in the MIAA, they still have a back field bruiser in Jeff Seybold, who is 5’11”, 208 pounds, and can knock your teeth out when he lowers his shoulder. Just ask Washburn, as he averaged 7.2 yards per rush for 123 total yards last week.
The Fort Hays defense will have their hands full all game and must make sure they apply pressure to Abenoja, not letting him sit in the pocket and do what he does best. This may be tough, as it will be the biggest offensive line Fort Hays has faced this year. At the same time, Fort Hays has the biggest and quickest defensive front that Pittsburg State has faced this year. Fort Hays leads MIAA in sacks and Pittsburg State has given up the second least sacks in the conference.
The linebacker core brought the hammer last game against Lindenwood for FHSU and must be prepared to do the same against the Gorillas. If Seybold happens to break through to the second level, the backers are going to have to stall him there.
While the PSU offense is impressive, it’s the PSU defense that may be the biggest unit facing FHSU this week.
The Gorilla defense has given up only 2-3 points per game and has already pitched two shut outs this year, with the starting defense yet to give up a touchdown this year.
Fort Hays likes to run the ball and that was apparent last week as they ran over 200 yards with running back Ed Smith, Miami, Fla., senior rushing for 99 yards and one score. That may be difficult against a defense that only yields 68.5 yards a game on the ground and only two yards per carry.
Still, Fort Hays has the best offensive line in the MIAA as far as giving up the least amount of sacks and negative yards so far this season. One hundred yards on the ground is still not out of the question, but it won’t be enough. They will need more from their offense.
This is the game where the Tigers want to see the quarterback Treveon Albert, Atlanta, Ga., junior of last year and not the Albert this year that is off to a slow start. Last season, Albert averaged 212 yards through the air, but so far this season is only averaging 85 yards a game and completing 46 percent of his passes.
The Tigers have been close on big pass attempts to wide receiver Ed Williams, Tampa, Fla., senior, but the Tigers are going to need to do more than just “get close.” They must complete them because they’ll be given very few second chances against this number one defense in the conference.
The Tigers have the Gorillas beat in depth at every position. If it becomes a run-and-gun type game, the Tigers may have the advantage since PSU may wear down towards the end of regulation. Also, the starters for the Gorillas have not played a whole game this year yet. Whether they can stay fresh for a full 60 minute game has yet to been seen. It has been seen from this Fort Hays State team. It may be small, but cramps happen and keep players out. If Pitt State is not used to playing full games, anything can happen.
When it comes down to it, this game will be the closest game for Pittsburg State this season and the best team they have faced to date. Fort Hays will be coming in with a lot of emotion and will take the early lead, establishing itself as a threat. Abenoja and the Gorillas will hang around, and in the end, the success they’ve had over the years will help them through what will be a tight game for most of the afternoon.
The Sager Prediction: FHSU 20 PSU 31