The Fort Hays State University football team had a bye week last week, but head coach Kevin Verdugo said it was far from a week off. His team was focused on Saturday’s opponent — Truman State University.
The Tigers will open up conference play against the Bulldogs (2-0) on Lewis Field and will attempt to advance to 3-0 for the first time since 1983.
For junior linebacker Alex Whitehill, Saturday couldn’t come soon enough after two weeks of practice.
“Everybody is biting at the bit ready to get going and get into the first conference game,” Whitehill said.
Though Whitehill was anxious to get to the game, Verdugo said the bye week helped his team prepare by allowing his players to recuperate and giving his team extra time to game plan for Truman.
“I made sure to stress to the team that this isn’t an off week. This is a bye week,” Verdugo said. “You get a chance to prep. You get a chance to get some extra work in, but you are not going to go and lie down on your dorm couch and play X-Box.”
First-year head coach of Truman, Gregg Nesbitt, spent the past three seasons as a defensive coordinator for the University of Central Missouri.
Last year, Nesbitt’s 4-2-5 Central Missouri defense shut down the Tiger offense and didn’t allow it to reach the end zone.
However, Verdugo said health was a major issue at the time with several of his players sick with the H1N1 virus and injured.
“I think there are some things that we can do to adjust to what we saw,” Verdugo said. “I also think having healthy guys makes a big difference, too.”
Truman is powered by a three-pronged rushing attack, which utilizes the option and play-action pass.
“Anytime you start seeing option, it goes from a gap responsibility to a man responsibility,” Verudgo said. “You have a guy that is going to be responsible for the quarterback, the dive and the pitch. If somebody bites on the wrong thing or steps the wrong way, they can get you in trouble.”
In two games, junior running back Harnish Ayora has rushed for 169 yards and four touchdowns, and senior running back Anton Bernard has gained 116 yards and a touchdown. Senior quarterback Davis Phillip adds an extra ground threat to the backfield, rushing for 137 yards and averaging 10.5 yards per carry.
“I personally love playing against a run-heavy offense,” Whitehill said. “I would rather not go into coverage as much and just play run defense, but it will be a challenge. We’ve just got to go out on every play and get after it.”
Phillip also has completed 22-of-37 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown in two games.
“(Phillip) runs well, throws the ball pretty well and has some experience under center,” Verdugo said. “Anytime you have an experienced quarterback that is a good athlete, they can create problems for you.”
Verdugo said like all teams in the conference, the team should treat this game like its back is against the wall.
“We are still fighting for a bone like a lot of other people. We have a tremendous start right now at 2-0,” Verdugo said. “The meat grinder has started so to speak. It is going to get hairy real quick for a lot of people.”