PITTSBURG — It seems as though the MIAA Conference doesn’t allow for an easy break in the schedule, as Pittsburg State tries to keep its playoff hopes alive when they host No. 12 Emporia State at 2 p.m. Saturday at Carnie Smith Stadium.
A week after the Gorillas (5-2) handed Missouri Western (4-3) a 55-47 loss in St. Joseph, Missouri, Pitt State returns home for a matchup with the Hornets, who are the second-best team in the conference on paper, holding a 6-1 record and have earned victories in six straight contests.
Offenses have been feasting in the MIAA in 2016, with seven of the 12 teams averaging more than 30 points a game. On the other side of the coin, just one defense — Northwest Missouri State (16) — is giving up and average of less than 20 points a game.
“A few years ago, when they changed the rule from where offensive lineman could be 1 yard down the field to 3 yards down the field, and now you have the run-pass option plays, that’s what made this huge difference in the game,” Pitt State head coach Tim Beck said. “It makes it very, very difficult to defend a team when they are run blocking, but they can still throw the football … It’s kind of wide open, and [teams] can find [different] ways to score points.”
SCOUTING THE PITT STATE OFFENSE
The Gorillas are averaging 42 points and 482 yards of offense per game this season. Last week, Pitt State put up 659 yards off offense against the Griffons.
“Last week was as good as we’ve played in a long time, as far as keeping a team off balanced and being able to move the ball with the run or pass,” Beck said. “We’ve been good of late.”
Quarterback John Roderique Jr. has completed 92-of-147 passes this season for 1,329 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions to earn a 163.63 efficiency rating. He has added 200 yards on the ground on 47 attempts.
The rushing attack is led by Michael Rose, who has accumulated 502 yards and six touchdowns on 83 touches in five games played this season. Rose has an additional 103 yards and a touchdown on 15 receptions in the passing game.
Leading the pass catchers for Pitt State is Levi Copelin, who has a team-high 41 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns.
Austin Panko has 478 yards and four touchdowns on 23 grabs, while Brenner Clemons has four scores and 364 yards on 27 catches.
SCOUTING THE PITT STATE DEFENSE
PSU is giving up an average of 36 points and 474 yards of offense per game to opponents this season. Last week, the Gorillas gave up a season-high 642 yards to the Griffons in the win.
Big plays continue to plague Pitt State’s defense, which continued last week as Missouri Western scored four times on plays of 50 or more yards.
“I think it’s a job of execution,” Pitt State linebacker Demetrius Bernard said. “We know what to do, and we have the guys to do it. It is just a matter of going out and [executing].”
Linebacker Spencer Brown leads the Gorillas in tackles, totaling 63 on the season, with 34 coming in solo variety. Brown has five tackles-for-loss, with two going down as sacks on the quarterback.
Fellow linebacker Ethan Fugate has 49 tackles, 24 solo, with 5.5 going for a loss.
Safety Deron Washington has picked up 41 tackles, while tying for the team lead in interceptions, with two.
Defensive lineman Simanu’a Thomas has a team-high 3.5 sacks this season for the Gorillas, racking up 20 tackles, five for-loss, in the process.
SCOUTING THE EMPORIA STATE OFFENSE
The Hornets are averaging 36 points a game this season, gaining 443 yards of offense.
“Emporia State is wide open on offense,” Beck said. “They are going to run a lot of tempo, and they are going to run a lot of plays. Last week, they ran 99 offensive plays, and they’ve had [games] with over 100 … They are not afraid to throw the football.”
Quarterback Braxton Marstall has completed 175-of-253 passes for 1,729 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, averaging 247 yards a game through the air. Marstall is a dual-threat signal caller, gaining 348 yards and five touchdowns on 84 carries this season.
Running backs Antonio Brown (59-361-4) and Landon Nault (81-334-2) have combined to rush for more than 650 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this season.
Mitchell Foote leads ESU with 515 yards and eight touchdowns on 39 receptions this season, while Justin Brown has caught a team-high 42 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
SCOUTING THE EMPORIA STATE DEFENSE
The Hornet defense is allowing opposing teams an average of 25 points and 401 yards of offense per contest this season.
“Defensively, they are very active at the defensive line based out of a four-man front,” Beck said. “They like to blitz … and do a lot of different things to keep those front four on the move so that you never have a good idea where they are going to be when the ball is snapped.”
Linebacker Kole Schankle has a team-high 50 tackles, 35 solo, and a team-high four interceptions.
Defensive lineman DeAndre Glover and defensive back Gary Woods Jr. each have tallied 25 tackles, with Glover recording nine tackles-for-loss and a sack.
Defensive end Donovan Walker leads the Hornets in sacks, with four, while defensive end Tre’Vaun Ammons has picked up 3.5 sacks on the season to give ESU a pair of formidable bookends.
-- Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.