At long last, the Eastern New Mexico University football team is facing an opponent without a number attached to its name.
After four consecutive outings against teams ranked in the NCAA Division II top 20, the Greyhounds visit winless Texas A&M-Commerce in a 5 p.m. (MDT) Lone Star Conference clash today at Commerce, Texas.
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo isn’t about to overlook anyone.
“They’re very athletic,” he said of the Lions (0-8, 0-6 LSC). “I’ve never seen an East Texas (State, the former name of the school) team that wasn’t athletic.
“They’re a lot like us; they just haven’t put it together, but they have the ability to be kind of explosive.”
The Hounds (2-7, 1-5) will be facing a familiar face at quarterback today in Lions junior quarterback J.J. Harp, who played at ENMU for two seasons before transferring and sitting out last season.
Harp still holds several passing records at ENMU, including NCAA marks of 64 completions in 94 attempts and 695 yards passing in a 2009 outing against Southwestern Oklahoma. He wasn’t the Lions starter when the season began, taking over when TCU transfer Yogi Gallegos was injured in Week 4.
It’s not exactly a Favre-vs.-Rodgers type matchup against ENMU junior Wes Wood, who was Harp’s backup here and has now started for two seasons. But then …
“J.J.’s been a little inconsistent,” Lions coach Guy Morriss said. “He’s had some good moments and some bad moments. He has so much faith in his arm, he sometimes tries to force the ball.”
ENMU senior wide receiver-kick returner Arvin Jackson chuckled a bit at the Farve-Rodgers comparison.
“It was great times; I love J.J., both as a quarterback and a person,” he said. “But I love Wes Wood too. He’s a great quarterback, and I’m proud to be playing with him.”
Harp set a school record for completions in last week’s 40-21 loss at Abilene Christian, going 36-for-59 for 297 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s averaging just over 250 yards a game passing.
Ribaudo said the Hounds are trying to approach it as they normally would.
“We haven’t made a big deal about that,” he said. “We’re just focused on beating the Lions.”
Both teams have been injury-plagued. Morriss said the Lions had hopes for a decent season, but it simply hasn’t panned out.
“Here’s an example of the luck we’ve had,” he said. “We came to camp with eight quarterbacks and we’re down to two now. We had 17 (offensive) linemen, and we’re down to seven.
“I felt good about it (going into the season). I thought this was a year we’d have a little bit of depth.”
The Hounds, meantime, have had their own injury issues. Among them, two of their top kick returners, sophomores Jayson Serda and De’Coreyon Thomas, won’t play — Serda with a dislocated elbow and Thomas because of the death of his stepfather last week.
That puts an extra burden on the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Jackson, who is averaging nearly 20 yards on 20 kickoff returns.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s what they prepare us for. Coach Rib does a good job of preparing us on special teams.”
He also said the Hounds are in no position to underestimate anyone.
“They’re just as hungry for a win as we are,” he said. “We still have to play to the best of our ability.”
ENMU (2-7, 1-5 Lone Star Conference
at Texas A&M-Commerce (0-8, 0-6)
5 p.m. (MDT) today at Commerce, Texas
• Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
• Coaches: ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 7th year, 24-50; Texas A&M-Commerce, Guy Morriss, 3rd year, 8-22.
• Last meeting: 2010, ENMU handed the Lions a 44-21 setback at Greyhound Stadium.
• Last week: The Hounds were beaten by then-No. 8 Midwestern State 57-34 at Greyhound Stadium. Commerce fell behind 30-0 late in the first half at No. 19 Abilene Christian and eventually lost to the Wildcats 40-21.
• Commerce players to watch: Marcus Graham, 5-8, 188, Sr., RB; Taylor Fore, 5-11, 168, Sr., WR; Cory Whitfield, 6-3, 200, Sr., LB; Tevin Moore, 6-1, 260, So., DT/DE; Tyler Rawlings, 6-1, 190, Jr., WR; Kevin Bevans, 5-8, 188, Jr., WR.
• Notes: The Hounds lead the all-time series 13-11, winning the last two and six of the past seven, including a 76-56 triumph at home in 2009 in which they set a school record for points. But they’re 3-9 all-time at Commerce. … Before this year, the Lions hadn’t started a season as poorly as 0-5 since 1926. … Morriss played center in the NFL for Philadelphia (1973-83) and New England (1984-87). He’s been an assistant in the NFL at New England and Arizona, and has served as a Division I head coach at Kentucky (2001-02) and Baylor (2003-07). … Graham is a two-time All-LSC North selection. … Fore and Bevans ranked 2-3 in the league in receptions per game, behind ENMU senior Darian Dale. … Whitfield, injured and lost for the season in A&M-C’s 2010 opener, ranks second in the LSC this year with 84 tackles (48 solos).
• Quotable: “We’ve been kind of hot and cold. We have yet to put together a complete game.” — Morris.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner