COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: UTPB aiming for more after tying school record for victories

Six weeks into this season, UTPB already has matched its highest win total in a single season.

There are still five more games left on the schedule.

On Saturday, the Falcons (5-1 overall, 3-0 in Lone Star Conference) defeated Midwestern State 21-13 on the road in Wichita Falls.

UTPB’s five victories tie the mark for the most wins in a season in the Falcons’ eight-year history of the program.

The Falcons posted five wins in the 2021 spring football season before going 5-5 later that year in the fall.

However, first year head coach Kris McCullough is not going to be satisfied until the Falcons can bring home a conference title.

“When I took this job, I never thought of five or six wins,” McCullough said. “You just think ‘when can I win a conference title and how can I win a conference title.’ That’s why you come to the Lone Star Conference. It’s the best conference in the nation. I want to win the Lone Star. I don’t care what’s happened in the last six weeks. All I care about is this week and the next week and the next week and find a way to go 1-0 every single week so that we can be here in five weeks talking about conference champions.”

So far, UTPB has defied expectations after originally being picked to finish seventh (out of nine schools) in the Lone Star Conference preseason polls.

Right now, UTPB currently sits with Central Washington (4-2, 4-0) at the top of the conference standings.

However, the Falcons are taking it one week at a time and this week will see UTPB returning home to face Eastern New Mexico (3-3, 1-3) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Astound Broadband Stadium in Midland.

>> FAMILIAR FACE:The Greyhounds are coached by Kelley Lee who is in his second tenure as head coach at EMSU.

Lee coached the Greyhounds from 2017-20 before leaving to take over as head coach and athletic director at Veterans Early College High School in Brownsville.

He came back to Eastern New Mexico during this past offseason to begin his second stint with the Greyhounds.

With the return of Lee came the return of the Greyhounds’ triple-option offense that they ran during his first three seasons.

McCullough knows that his defense will have a unique challenge this week as they face a different style offense.

“When you have a physically dominant offensive line that’s going to cut you every single play, it’s a huge mental gap that you have to face in the first quarter,” McCullough said. “Our defensive line is not going to be prepared until that first snap when they see how they get off the ball. How physically it is at the point of attack. It’s challenging. We have to do our assignments. You have to be responsible in the passing game, too.”

UTPB’s offense could see limited possessions throughout the game.

“Their defense makes you drive down the field,” McCullough said. “They’re not going to give up the big plays. Our offense has to be clicking on all cylinders. We’re only going to get six to nine possessions on offense, so we better make the most of our opportunities on offense.”

Back when he was at East Central University, McCullough remembers having to face a similar offense against Harding.

“At my old school, we faced Harding, which was always top 10 in the country and they ran the triple option as well,” McCullough said. “We were able to stop the run, but then they threw for 160 yards and three touchdowns. We didn’t have discipline in the backfield. We can’t allow that to happen. If we’re trying to stop the run game, we can’t allow big plays to happen. They may score 21 points just like that because of three pass plays. We can’t allow that to happen. We have to stay disciplined and continue to trust the other guys on the field to do their jobs.”

>> DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS:UTPB’s defense gave up 35 points against Western Colorado on Sept. 9 and then 40 points to West Texas A&M on Sept. 23.

However, in the last two weeks, the Falcons’ defense has started to improve.

UTPB allowed 17 points against Texas A&M-Kingsville on Sept. 30 and 13 last week against Midwestern State.

“It starts up front, but every week we’ve gotten better,” McCullough said. “Up front, we’re plugging the holes and doing our job. Then we let our two linebackers run free and fill the rest of the gaps. The secondary is playing pretty well. We’re not giving up big plays. We did give up one big play against Midwestern State, but as long as we’re not giving up four-big-plus plays on defense, we have a shot.”

UTPB linebacker Hayden Kelly was named this week’s Lone Star Conference Defensive Player of the Week for his effort against Midwestern State.

The grad student had a game-high 14 tackles and also had two tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry.