The VSU Blazers are 3-1. So are the Ouachita Baptist Tigers. And this Saturday the two teams will meet at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium for what will be a make or break game in the Gulf South Conference.
Despite the 3-1 overall records, both teams currently hold a 1-1 record in conference play, and in a conference that features teams like Delta State, West Alabama and third-ranked North Alabama, a loss Saturday would likely end either teams chances of taking home the 2010 conference championship.
“It’s huge. You’re sitting in a position right now where if you don’t take care of business in this one, you’re going to be behind the eight ball,” VSU Head Coach David Dean said. “You will need a lot of help. Right now we aren’t in great shape, but we are in good shape. Somebody is one game away from not playing very good and then we are back in the hunt for a Gulf South Conference championship.” Much like VSU, Ouachita Baptist enters Saturday’s game riding a one-game winning streak, after the Tigers put together a second half come back to take down the Harding Bisons this past Saturday in Searcy, Ark.
For the Blazers, this game is more than the 2010 homecoming game and more than the fifth game on the schedule. For VSU, Saturday’s game is labeled as a redemption game after the Blazers fell to OBU last season for the first time in the 10-year history of the matchup.
“I think they’re treating it like they did against Newberry and Delta State,” Dean said. “I reminded them of that. I told them remember how you felt when you walked off the field with Newberry and remember how you felt with Delta (State). Let’s go back off with the feeling that we had with Newberry.”
Last week, the VSU defense carried the Blazers to a victory as the offense managed just 205 yards of offense.
Cornerback Stevie Harden continued his hot start as he recorded his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season—which puts him just four away from tying the all-time single season school record, which was set in 1986. Harden also accounted for a fumble recovery and two of the three VSU touchdowns in the Blazers 27-0 win over the winless Southern Arkansas Muleriders.
Saturday might be a different story for the VSU defense, which ranks third in the conference in total defense. They will face the high-powered Tiger offense, which ranks second in the conference in total offense and first in scoring offense with an average 44 points per game.
“We have to go out there and play good. We are going to face probably the best offense we have faced all season long to this point,” Dean said. “They’re explosive, they’re averaging 44 points per game and the big thing for us is that our defense has to play real well because we can’t get into a shoot out with them because I don’t think we are good enough offensively. We have to keep it at a low scoring game and keep them off the field a little bit.”
The offensive production for OBU begins with the play of six-foot-one-inch senior quarterback Eli Cranor, who led OBU to 502 yards of offense against the Blazers in 2009. Cranor currently ranks fourth in the conference in passing, averaging just over 223 yards passing per game while leading OBU with seven passing touchdowns and just one interception.
Last season Cranor blasted the young and depleted Blazer defense for 373 yards passing as he led OBU to the 24-14 upset.
“Well (Cranor) just makes good decisions,” Dean said. “Not only does he make good decisions but he makes quick decisions. You know you would like to hit the quarterback a good bit and put pressure on him and all that, but he gets rid of the ball so fast it kind of frustrates you as a defense.”
Dean should be confident in his defense, after all, it has recorded 13 takeaways throughout the first four games—10 of which have been by way of interceptions. Defensively VSU ranks 12th nationally in total defense and second in the conference in takeaways.
Though Dean has much confidence in his defense, his offense might be a different story. Last week the VSU offense converted just one of their 14 first downs and failed to score a single touchdown even after the coaching staff decided to bench starting quarterback Brett Whitmire and put in backup Austen Roberts.
Though Whitmire was benched after completing just three of 11 passing attempts for 17 yards, the redshirt freshman will make his fourth collegiate start this Saturday—a decision that Dean made immediately after Saturday’s win over SAU.
“We obviously did not have a lot to do (on Wednesday) because of the weather issues and the moving around (from place to place) but yesterday I thought (Brett) had a really good practice,” Dean said. “He was throwing the ball sharp and crisp and his arm looked strong. I think he is ready to go back out there and play again and more than anything I think our players are ready to go back out and prove to Brett that we can help you.”
The game this Saturday is scheduled for a 3 p.m. kickoff and can be heard on the Blazer Radio Network
Read about the game online at www.vsuspectator.com.