TLU freshman J.C. Garcia is one of four Bulldogs top 100 rushing yards in a game this season. Photo by Andie Rangel.
(Marshall) – Texas Lutheran’s formula for success in 2017 has been a bruising, ball-control rushing attack and a disruptive, pressuring defense, and the Bulldogs hope to sustain those trends this Saturday when they face the American Southwest Conference’s most prolific passing offense, East Texas Baptist, at Ornelas Stadium in Marshall.
TLU is 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the ASC in Carl Gufstafson’s first season as head coach after a 47-30 Homecoming win over Louisiana College last Saturday.
ETBU is also led by a first-year head coach who previously served as an assistant at the school. Scott Highsmith has the Tigers off to a 4-1 start (3-1 ASC) after last week’s 57-7 thumping of Howard Payne.
As ETBU’s offensive coordinator in 2016, Highsmith directed the nation’s highest scoring Division III offense. His Tigers haven’t skipped a beat in 2017, averaging 53 points and an ASC-high 409.8 passing yards per game. As was the case a year ago, the triggerman in that attack is quarterback Dru Smith. An All-ASC Honorable Mention pick as a junior, Smith has thrown for a conference-high 1,807 yards and 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions through five games of his senior season. Xavier Gray (17 rec., 589 yds., 6 TD) has been Smith’s most explosive receiver.
TLU counters with an improving defense that has allowed the most passing yards in the conference (341 per game), but ranks second in sacks (17) and has limited opponents to a 37 percent conversion rate on third down while giving up just 61.8 rushing yards per game and 2.2 per carry.
The Bulldogs will try to keep Smith and the ETBU offense on the sideline as much as possible by controlling the ball with a rushing attack that churns out 236.1 yards per game behind an offensive line that was just named to the D3Football.com Team of the Week after paving the way to 358 rushing yards, six touchowns, and over 40 minutes of possession time in the win over Louisiana College.
That effort came without the services of injured starting center Grayson Olguin, so TLU moved regular right tackle Christopher Bennett to that position, Andy Day to right tackle, and started former Seguin standout Travis York at left tackle while leaving left guard Alejandro Briseno and right guard Johnny Garcia at their regular positions. Olguin is expected back this week.
The offensive line has helped four different Bulldogs top 100 rushing yards in at least one game this season – quarterback Kyle Grona, and running-backs Jordan Braden, J.C. Garcia, and Christopher Monroe. TLU has also allowed the fewest sacks (three) in the ASC, but faces an ETBU defense that pressures opposing quarterbacks well (17 sacks), and features the league’s top two tacklers in linebackers Ty Parsons (71) and Caleb Taylor (62). ETBU linebacker C.J. Johnson and TLU defensive end Manny Longoria are tied for the ASC lead in sacks with 4.5 apiece.
Saturday’s kickoff at Ornelas Stadium in Marshall is set for 2 p.m. The game will air live on KWED 1580 AM and Seguintoday.com, with streaming video available at tlubulldogs.com.