Russellville, AR (ATU) - Arkansas Tech Football is set to hit the road for the first time this season as the Wonder Boys travel to Cleveland, Miss., for a non-conference match-up Thursday night against Delta State in front of national television audience on the CBS College Sports Network (SuddenLink Digital Cable Channel 123 in Russellville). Kickoff for Thursday's game is set for 7:06 p.m. at Parker Field-McCool Stadium.
Tech, who is sporting a 1-0 record after opening the 2010 season with a 34-19 win last Thursday at home over Lambuth, is seeking to open 2-0 for the second straight year and the seventh time since the 2000 season.
"It is a big stage for our players, coaches, school and program," Tech Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Steve Mullins said. "We're excited to be able to play in front of a national television audience on Thursday night."
Thursday's game has little or no meaning for the Gulf South Conference race as the league mandated that Tech and DSU play a non-conference game against each other the next two seasons.
Delta State, who is playing its first home game of the 2010 season on Thursday, enters the game sporting an 0-1 record after suffering a 32-17 loss at the hands of Jackson State this past Saturday. JSU forced five DSU turnovers and gained 501 yards of total offense, including passing for 404 yards in picking up the victory over the Statesmen.
"There were a lot of similarities between us and Delta a week ago. You look at the turnovers they had and the big advantage it gave Jackson State," said Mullins, who improved to 86-54 as Tech's coach following the season opening win over Lambuth. "Delta had some drives where they had things going and then they turn the ball over. That was very similar to our game against Lambuth."
Tech, who gained 321 yards of offense, including rushing for 152 yards in its season opener, also committed five turnovers in its win over Lambuth.
"We had opportunities last week to put Lambuth away, but we were never able to do it," the Tech coach added. "We kept giving them opportunities with our five turnovers and you can't do that if you want to beat good teams."
While Tech's offense sputtered in the opener thanks to five turnovers and numerous dropped passes by the Wonder Boy receivers, Tech's defense was on task most of the night as the Wonder Boys allowed the Eagles just 212 yards of offense, including limiting them to 11 yards rushing on 24 carries.
"I was really pleased with our defense. We had two big plays that we gave up, the double reverse pass and the swing-screen that we did not play very well," Mullins said.
Leading the day for Tech's defense in the opener was senior defensive back Antonio Charles (Sarasota, Fla.). Charles collected six total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and one sack. In addition to Charles, senior nose guard T.J. Langley (Hugo, Okla.) had four tackles, 0.5 sacks and 0.5 tackles for loss, while junior defensive lineman Garret Ratcliff (Summit, Miss.) had four tackles in the win. For the game, Tech's defense recorded five quarterback sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Mullins said that in DSU's opener against JSU, the Tigers offense made some big plays against the Statesmen defense, especially in the second half.
"I thought Delta played pretty sound defensively, but JSU made some big plays," Mullins added. "It is a pretty typical Delta State defense. They can run and hit and with our inexperience on offense, we've got to be ready for the speed of the game."
DSU's defense in the opener was led by senior defensive back Garrett Williams and redshirt freshman linebacker Xavier Triplett. Williams recorded 15 tackles, including 10 solo stops and a tackle for loss against the Tigers, while Triplett had 11 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss of eight yards.
On offense, the Statesmen broke in a new quarterback in the loss to the Tigers as junior Micah Davis took over the reins of the DSU offensive attack. In the opener, Davis, a transfer from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, was 23-for-40 passing for 371 yards, but he had three interceptions and one touchdown pass.
"Delta has a very diverse offense and their quarterback seems to be a good operator," Mullins added.
Perhaps the Statesmen's biggest weapon is senior Preseason All-American Trevar Deed. Deed, who plays running back and is the team's top kick and punt return specialist, is one of the top all-purpose players in the nation. Deed enters Thursday's game having gained 3,800 career all-purpose yards and has scored 31 career touchdowns.
"Deed is a special player. He showed it last year and showed it again in the opener," Mullins added. "He just operates at a different speed than the rest of us, which is one thing that makes him so good.
"They are going line him up in the backfield, they're going to split him out and try and get the ball in his hands any way they can."
Mullins said two of the biggest keys to Thursday's game will be the field position battle.
"DSU's return game was very good against Jackson State, particularly as you look at the field position battle. We've got to be able to handle the field control," said Mullins, who is 16-11 all-time in non-conference games at Tech, including being 8-1 since 2005.
Thursday's meeting with Delta State marks the 18th meeting all-time in the series with the Statesmen holding a 10-7 lead. Tech has lost four of the last five games in the series with the only win coming last season in Russellville, 35-23. DSU leads the series, 6-2 in Cleveland, while Tech leads 5-4 in Russellville.