CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks ENMU senior running back Jason Walker, center, rushed for 76 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 49-13 Lone Star Conference crossover victory over East Central at Greyhound Stadium.
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Eastern New Mexico University’s option offense, potent through its first three games this season, should face its stiffest test so far tonight when the Greyhounds take on Central Oklahoma in a Lone Star Conference crossover contest at Edmond, Okla.
The Greyhounds lead NCAA Division II in rushing at 427.3 yards per game, while the Bronchos’ defense is ranked second nationally with just under 240 total yards allowed per outing.
“They’re an excellent defensive team,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “They were sound on defense last year, and just about all of them return.”
While the Hounds are off to their first 3-0 start since 2003, Central Oklahoma is 1-2 and coming off losses to Emporia State and Angelo State after upending nationally-ranked Abilene Christian in their opener.
The defense wasn’t to blame for the losses, holding Emporia to 67 yards and Angelo to 293. The Bronchos put their defense in bad spots by committing 11 turnovers in the two setbacks.
Still, Ribaudo said the Hounds will have to play well to win.
“If we play up to our expectations and they play up to their expectations,” he said, “it should be a whale of a game.”
The Hounds struggled to score in a 14-10 win over Northeastern State on Sept. 6 and, in fact, needed a defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
Last week, though, they were clicking on all cylinders in a 49-13 rout of East Central.
Sophomore outside linebacker Texavier Henry maintained there wasn’t much difference in the team’s level of play in either game.
“We were playing well (against Northeastern), too,” he said. “We just had a couple of breakdowns that we had to fix in practice.
“When (the offense) is down, we need to help them out. When we’re down, they need to help us out.”
Ribaudo said the Bronchos can run or throw behind senior quarterback Ryan O’Hare, but they’re more run-oriented than either Northeastern or East Central.
“They’re going to get in that I-formation and run right at you with the lead back,” he said. “We need to be able to execute the option (on offense), and our defense will have to be able to stop the run and contain their passing game.”
Henry acknowledged that last week’s blowout gave the Hounds a shot of confidence. He thinks the main thing is to keep doing what they’ve been doing.
“As long as we come out playing the way we’ve been playing, we should be fine,” he said.
ENMU at Central Oklahoma
When: 5 p.m. (MDT) today in a Lone Star Conference crossover game at Edmond, Okla.
Records: Central Oklahoma 1-2, ENMU 3-0
Last week: ENMU cruised past East Central 49-13 at Blackwater Draw; Central Oklahoma suffered a 27-18 loss to Angelo State at San Angelo, Texas.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3
On the Net: www.enmusports.com
Coaches: Eastern New Mexico, Mark Ribaudo, 3rd year; Central Oklahoma, Chuck Langston, 5th year.
Last meeting: The Bronchos scored with 26 seconds left to edge ENMU 19-16 at Blackwater Draw. Quarterback Ryan O’Hara completed 8-of-10 passes on the game-winning, 89-yard drive, including a 7-yard TD pass to Marcellus Parker.
East Central players to watch: Jermelle Cudjo, 6-2, 290, So., NG; Will Clewis, 6-1, 240, Sr. LB; Nigel Dawson, 6-4, 280, Sr., DT; Ryan O’Hara, 6-6, 235, Sr., QB; Ben Birmingham, 6-0, 205, So., TB; Jonathan Llama, 6-0, 290, Jr., C.
Notes: Saturday is the Bronchos’ Homecoming game, and their third at home this season. They play their next three on the road and won’t be at home again until facing Southwestern Oklahoma on Oct. 27. … Langston is 26-20 at the school, including 16-7 at home, but the Bronchos are 9-15 since the start of the 2005 season. … Central Oklahoma leads the all-time series 26-13-2, although the Greyhounds had won the previous three meetings before last season. … Central Oklahoma is ranked second in the LSC and 19th in NCAA Division II in total defense (238.7 ypg). … The Bronchos upended then-No. 11-ranked Abilene Christian 27-17 in their opener, but have committed 11 turnovers the last two weeks in losses to Emporia State (17-7) and Angelo State. … The Hounds lead Division II in rushing offense (427.3 ypg). ENMU quarterback Michael Benton leads the LSC in rushing (169.3 ypg) while his backup, J.T. Thompson, is No. 4 (122.3).