By NICK McQUEEN
Through its 4-4 run thus far in the MIAA, the Fort Hays State University football team has faced varying styles of play.
The Tigers' defense, which has not given up no more than 29 points in a game has faced the league's top passing attack in Pittsburg State University, and held them to just six points in a win, 26 points below their season average. They have also gone up against Northwest Missouri, the leagues' third-best rushing team, and held the No. 10 Bearcats to 29 points, seven lower than their MIAA-leading season average.
However, this week in relatively MIAA newcomer University of Nebraska-Kearney --a former RMAC Tiger rival -- FHSU's 'D' faces a somewhat new challenge.
"It's just a different game. We really have to be prepared for the run," Tiger coach Chris Brown said. "We got to stop the run and get them to throw the ball."
FHSU and UNK will kick off at noon Saturday in Kearney, Neb., as the Tigers look to climb above .500, and the Lopers seek their third win.
A win for the Tigers on defense will mean FHSU is able to contain 6-foot, 200-pound junior quarterback Bronson Marsh. A big, physical runner with a good arm, Marsh can pose a matchup problem if not kept inside.
"He's so good with his feet that he can cause problems, just like (junior quarterback Treveon Albert) is so good with his feet. If there is a rush, he can get out of the pocket and go get a first down," Brown said.
So much so that Marsh, as a QB, is the MIAA's fourth-leading rusher at 84 yards per game (672 total) and is tied for second in the league with 10 rushing TDs. His 672 yards are third most for a quarterback in NCAA Division II. He also throws for 129.1 yards per game, and has eight scores.
"That's going to be a kid we're going to have to bring down to the ground," said Tiger junior linebacker Brock Long. "When we first wrap him up, we can't really miss tackles. Especially if we're playing man or bringing pressure.
"If we get back there, we're going to have to bring him down."
Kearney's wins this season have come against MIAA bottom-feeders Northeastern State University and Lindenwood -- just like two of FHSU's wins -- and the Lopers are coming off a 36-21 loss at Pittsburg State last week. FHSU is coming off its gauntlet run of Pitt, Washburn, Missouri Western, Emporia State and Northwest Missouri, where the Tigers went 2-3, including an overtime loss to Washburn on Oct. 4. The Tigers are just looking to close out a solid season in a positive way. There straight wins would mean another one-win improvement in four seasons under Brown.
"We're kind of on a ladder, and we have an opportunity to get to the next rung," said senior defensive lineman Jesse Trent.
The Tiger defense has proven one of the best in the conference, sitting fourth in the league allowing just 19.4 points per game. But the offense has yet to find its rhythm, averaging 18.4 points per game, an average that was helped out by a 48-point outing in Week 2. Since, FHSU has not put up more than 24.
Brown said FHSU will look to keep the ball on the ground this week, and get a run game going that is 10th in the conference at just 122.4 yards per game.
"If you can run the ball, you can do a lot of different things," Brown said. "We haven' been able to establish those things. (Teams have) taken the run game away, and we're one-dimensional. We haven't ben able to control the gam by running the ball, and that's something we have to try and do this week."
Through the air, Albert is averaging 152.1 yards per game for FHSU, but the Tigers do not have a single rusher in the top 10 in the conference, a 56.3 yard-per-game cutoff. Senior Edward Smith sits at 50.9 per outing.
"Find better ways to run the ball. Blocking angles, pinning and pulling, working more double teams," Brown said. "We have to sure that up, and make that a big part of our game this week."
That, and contain Marsh, who also has shown big-play ability.
"They're explosive. That's the first word that comes to mind," Trent said of UNK. "They don't necessarily live off it, but they have that tendency to hit that big play."
After Saturday, FHSU is at home against Missouri Southern State University, then closes the season at University of Central Missouri on Nov. 15.