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SPOTLIGHT
Tigers' Austin starting to find his way

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Tigers' Austin starting to find his way

Published on -10/5/2012, 10:26 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Throughout the season's first month, Fort Hays State University football coach Chris Brown said several times junior quarterback Tarean Austin played well in practice. However, Austin, in his first year as the Tiger starter after he transferred from NCAA Division I University of New Mexico, hadn't carried over the performance into Saturdays.

Last week, Austin played his best game with FHSU in a 37-23 road victory against Truman State (Mo.) University.

He rushed 13 times for a team-high 136 yards and two scores and passed for 140 yards with a 2/1 TD/INT ratio as Fort Hays earned its first win of the year. The lone drawback was completing just 14 of 30 passes for 47 percent, a low rate that has plagued Austin throughout college.

"He finally relaxed," Brown said in his weekly news conference Tuesday. "He kind of started off a little shaky, over-anxious, trying to force a few things here and there and overthrowing the ball. I told him 'Just breathe. Take it easy, relax, get your keys, read your keys, and then just throw the ball like you do in practice. Treat it like a practice.' "

Austin guided Fort Hays to 541 yards of total offense, nearly twice the amount of Fort Hays' previous season high.

"Feel like it took a lot of stress off my back," Austin said of his talk with Brown. "I feel like I have been trying to do too many things when it gets to game time and it kind of messes me up. It seems like when I take what I do in practice and take it to the game, I feel like I'll be more comfortable."

The Tigers, after opening the season 0-4 against four squads ranked in the top-25 nationally, moved to 1-4, 1-4 MIAA. On Saturday, FHSU plays host to Lindenwood (Mo.) University (4-1, 3-1 MIAA). Game time is 7 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium.

"The first four games that we played, those teams are really good," senior guard Hawk Rouse said. "They are top teams in the country, and I think they did nothing but prepare us for last Saturday."

Austin still doesn't rank in the top 10 in any MIAA category. He has completed 61 of 133 passes (45.9 percent) for 571 yards with a 4/4 TD/INT ratio. His passing efficiency is just 85.8. Austin has rushed 43 times for 218 yards and four scores.

"Try to look downfield and use my arm first and then if it comes down to it, I will have to use my speed," he said.

In the 15-team MIAA, Fort Hays ranks No. 13 in scoring offense and total offense and passing efficiency against the nation's No. 2 strength of schedule, according to masseyratings.com.

Austin, who took over in the second half of the season opener against Emporia State University from Anthony Sheppard, has led the Tigers to 19.6 points per game. Against the same five opponents last year -- three of the squads made postseason and ESU was a win away from a likely bowl game -- Fort Hays averaged 22.4 points per game.

Austin called last Saturday his best contest and said "things are starting to slow down."

"I feel like I am more comfortable, and my o-line is doing a great job," Austin said. "Just got to get out there and trust those guys."

Still, Austin needs to improve his completion percentage. Fort Hays stands No. 14 in completion percentage (47.6) and yards per pass attempt (4.9).

In 2010, following two injuries to signal callers, Austin became the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback for New Mexico since 1988. On a 1-11 team, Austin completed 48.9 percent of his passes with a 2/4 TD/INT ratio and 4.4 yards per pass attempt.

The next season, on another 1-11 team, Austin completed 51.3 percent of his passes with a 3/1 TD/INT ratio and 6.1 yards per pass attempt. Then Austin left the program and transferred to Fort Hays.

"It's just that he has got one throwing motion and that's hard," Brown said. "He wants to rifle it in there every time. If we could just get him to just take a little bit off here and there, I think that his percentage rate would go way up. Just everything he does, he tries to throw a 100 mile per hour fastball. In football, you can't do that. You've just got to get some touch underneath the ball."

Austin has just one contest, a Week 4 loss to Missouri Western State University, where he has completed at least half of his passes. In no game has he delivered a passing efficiency above 105. While he improved last week, Austin knows there still is plenty of work left.

"Especially on some of the short, little down under routes, take a little bit off and give my guys a chance to catch the ball," Austin said.

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