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AWC set for matchup with Blinn in Heart of Texas Bowl
COPPERAS COVE, Texas — The practices are over. The community service projects have ended.
All that’s left is football.
After two days of activities leading up to the Heart of Texas Bowl, the No. 4 Arizona Western
Matadors will take on defending national champion Blinn, which enters the game No. 16. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. Mountain time and can be heard on 560 AM KBLU.
There are a lot of distractions that come with a bowl game, but AWC quarterback Boomer Green said the Matadors (10-1) are focused on beating the Buccaneers (7-3).
“We have to bring our full focus on the game and worry about what’s in front of us instead of all the distractions,” Green said. “It’s all focus, really. It’s coming along good.”
Green, who took over at quarterback for the injured Brent Burnette, hasn’t lost a game since becoming the starter. AWC coach Tom Minnick said that Green has earned the starting job even though Burnette is healthy. According to Blinn coach Brad Franchione, having the mobile Green under center poses a problem for the Bucs.
Along with the nation’s top rusher, Reggie Bullock, in the Matadors backfield, Franchione will have his hands full with AWC’s dangerous offense.
“They’ve been a pretty good quick-strike offense. They don’t necessarily quick strike you in two or three plays, but they do have a methodical offensive system to them,” Franchione said. “They wear on you to the point they can get the big one. Part of it is just being mentally tough.”
The Matadors finished the year fifth in the nation in total offense, one spot ahead of the Buccaneers. Franchione said if Blinn is to be successful, they are going to need to cut back on turnovers and control the ball. That means plenty of running out of their option offense, which features quarterback Justin Tuggle and running back Marion Tice.
“I think they’ve done a tremendous job all season defensively and the first thing you want to do against a defense like this is try to get your running back moving down the field,” Franchione said. “But ultimately, when it gets right down to it, the critical part of the game for our offense is to make sure they secure the ball. Punts are not necessarily a bad thing for us.”
Minnick said that shutting down Tuggle is a priority. He added that the Matadors faced an option before against Eastern Arizona, a 27-0 AWC win.
Franchione said he expects to apply pressure the way Glendale did in the Gauchos’ 20-9 win over AWC, the Matadors’ only loss of the season. He said it might be more difficult with Green in at quarterback instead of Burnette, who’s more of a pocket passer.
“I think we can do some things,” Minnick said. “They run a lot of coverages and mix some stuff up more than other people we’ve seen. But if we catch them in the eight stuff we’ll be in the mix with some of our play calling. You have two halves and it’s a crapshoot game sometimes with some stuff.”
The other part of the equation for both teams is the focus level.
Both teams participated in community service projects on Friday, with each school speaking to a local elementary school about the dangers of drug use. In the evening both teams attended an awards banquet as the final organized activity before Saturday’s game.
Minnick said striking the balance between having fun, which is a big purpose of a bowl game, and winning is a thin line.
“It’s hard sometimes,” Minnick said. “They’re 18-, 19-year-old kids. It’s tough, but you have to stay on them. It’s all about discipline and keeping that in order and making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We do that here. Some of them don’t like that we do it here, but we do it here. If they don’t like it, they can go home.”
Click here to listen to the Creatively Titled Sports Podcast interview with AWC wide receiver Ge'shun Harris and his thoughts on the upcoming game.