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Tigers square off with No. 7 Griffons

Published on -9/21/2012, 10:27 AM

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A quarterback when he came to Fort Hays State University in 2010, Tiger junior Tanner Hageman knew a little bit about the importance of being in sync.

Having now made the full transition to being a wide receiver for the 0-3 Tigers, the Cheney native stresses it that much more.

So far, it's something the Tigers and junior transfer quarterback Tarean Austin have struggled to do, but they put in extra work this week in the passing game as they prepared for action with No. 7 ranked Missouri Western State University.

Game time is 7 p.m. Saturday at Lewis Field Stadium.

"These last couple days, we've been out on the field getting extra routes and getting timing down," Hageman siad Tuesday. "A lot it comes in practice. Coaches preach every day about going full speed, so we get that timing correct."

Austin, who took over the starting position in Week 2, has completed 41 percent of his passes (30 of 73), and has thrown three interceptions with two touchdowns. In last week's 48-10 loss to then-No. 13 Northwest Missouri State University, Austin finished 9 of 24 for 96 yards with two picks. Two of those completions were to Hageman for 36 yards -- one a 25-yard completion on third down and long, a rare conversion for the Tigers this season -- but in a familiar situation.

"We have to convert on those third-down conversions. It comes back to first and second down," Tiger second-year coach Chris Brown said. "We have to get second-and-6, second-and-5, so we can get it to third-and-3, third-and-4."

"(If we do that), we can get a little more open in the playbook," Brown added.

The Tigers' inability to stay on the field offensively has hindered the defense somewhat. Fort Hays (0-3 overall, 0-3 MIAA) has allowed 93 points the last two weeks, both to nationally-ranked opponents.

The Tigers will see another of the MIAA's high-octane offenses in Missouri Western, again among the nation's best in several offensive categories.

"They're a very good team," Brown said. "They do things well offensively. The whole front five is seniors and juniors.

"They are just tremendous all the way around," he added. "They do things well, and don't make a lot of mistakes."

Western (3-0, 2-0) brings the MIAA's best rushing attack with 321.7 yards per contest (6th nationally), fueled senior running back Michael Hill, who has 539 yards on 66 carries with four TDs.

The Griffons only put up 155 yards per game through the air, but haven't had to throw the ball much in putting up 44 points a contest in the unbeaten start, with wins against University of Central Missouri (38-26), William Jewell College (56-0) and University of Nebraska-Kearney (38-14).

The Tiger defense will be looking for a better game following a rough outing last week, where Brown said missed tackles cost his squad many opportunities.

"A lot of it is not bad position, they're just not running their feet through them -- they're diving," Brown said. "They're not getting their head across a lot of times, and they're just not wrapping up. ...They're trying to tackle up high when we should be going for the legs, and that's why we're slipping off a bunch of them."

While the defense has been on the field for more than half of every game, they aren't using it as an excuse.

"We do tackling stuff every day," Tiger sophomore defensive back Michael Jordan said. "You just have to take it serious. You can't just got through the motions.

"You have to do it," he added.

The Tigers' biggest offensive threat and bright spot the last two games has been in the form of freshman Addie Brown. The Denver native had to step up in Week 2 following injurires to senior Andre Smith and junior Ed Smith in the first two games. Brown has responded by rushing for 114 and 72 yards in the previous two games. He leads the Tigers with 224 yards on 53 carries, scoring the lone TD for the Tigers in last week's loss.

"The coaches and the players have all made me feel comfortable -- part of the team and the family," Addie Brown said. "They're all helping me out with the stuff I don't know."

Saturdays' contest will be the third straight against a ranked opponent, and the third straight against a team sitting in the upper half of the conference. The 0-3 start might be unimpressive, but it hasn't dwindled the Tigers' outlook.

"There are some guys frustrated, but we've played some really good teams these first three games," Hageman said.

"We just have to fight through that, and believe what (coaches) are saying, and believe in our abilities. I believe we are a good team, and we have to come out every Saturday and show that."

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