Playing at home for the final time until November, No. 8 Northwest Missouri State put together its most complete performance of the season last week in a 66-6 clobbering of winless Northeastern State.
An offense that had been mired in inconsistency set season high's for points (66), total yards (654) and rushing yards (346) without a turnover, and the defense kept NSU scoreless for the final 52 minutes and forced four turnovers.
Venturing on the road for the first of four consecutive October games, the Bearcats want to keep up their high level of play against Central Oklahoma Saturday at 1 p.m. at 10,000-seat Wantland Stadium in Edmond, Okla.
Central Oklahoma (1-4, 1-4) is the third straight first-year MIAA program and the fourth straight team with one win or less on Northwest's schedule.
"Something we talk about a great deal as a program is we can't believe the season is already half over," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel. "We carried that into Saturday's game and I fully expect us to carry that into UCO and just keep on going. We were playing at such a high level defensively. We were playing at such a high level on special teams. I think to put it all together just gave our team a lot of confidence."
Northwest (4-1, 3-1) carries a three-game win streak into play, having beaten three straight winless opponents by an average of 37.3 points.
This is Northwest's final game before their showdown with No. 1 Pittsburg State at Arrowhead Stadium Oct. 13, raising the possibility that the Bearcats might be due for a letdown.
Dorrel disputes that notion.
"We've never even talked about stuff like that around here," said Dorrel. "I think the thing I've always tried to do with the kids is get them to enjoy each week, and it's very sincere coming from me. I'm excited about going down there. I've been there before. They got nice stuff and it's a nice fan base, nice school. It's a suburb of Oklahoma City. I don't buy into that stuff."
Northwest is making its first visit to UCO since 1991 which is also the last time the Bearcats played in the state of Oklahoma.
Northwest and UCO have split four all-time meetings, with the last one taking place in 1992 at Bearcat Stadium.
A former Lonestar Conference member, the Bronchos finished 2-9 each of the past two seasons before moving into the MIAA.
Former Navarro (Texas) Junior College coach Nick Bobeck, age 32, was hired as UCO's head coach in January and brought with him Adrian Nelson who is now the Bronchos starting quarterback.
Like Northeastern State (0-5, 0-5), the Bronchos have endured a brutal early-season schedule, consisting of four games and soon to be five against ranked opponents.
Page 2 of 3 - In the last four weeks, UCO has played No. 1 Pitt State, No. 25 Emporia State, No. 20 Washburn and No. 5 Missouri Western.
Emporia State was the lone team during that stretch to blow UCO out, winning 42-14.
UCO lost to Pitt 34-19 and was within eight points of Western in the fourth quarter before losing 45-23 last week.
Two weeks ago, UCO broke into the win column with a 35-20 upset of Washburn, which at the time was undefeated and ranked No. 9 in the nation.
That game caused Northwest and the rest of the MIAA to take notice.
"I think it really opens your kids eyes," said Dorrel. "I know when I was in there (Tuesday) that was one of the first games they watched and you could see their athleticism come out, just kind of the way they sparked themselves late in that game. There was a lot of enthusiasm on the sidelines. We know the quality of opponent Washburn is and for Washburn to go down there and beat, I think it says a lot about UCO."
Dorrel calls Central Oklahoma "more athletic" than any of the past three teams they've played and says they are "much better" on the defensive line than Northeastern State due to a transfer-heavy presence.
"They maybe don't have the experience in Division II, but they got a lot of kids that have played a lot of football," said Dorrel.
Statistically, the Bronchos haven't excelled in any one area.
They rank ninth or below in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, total defense, rush offense, rush defense, pass offense and pass defense.
Offensively, UCO runs a steady diet of zone-read plays with Nelson either keeping himself, faking and throwing or handing off to explosive tailback Josh Birmingham.
A 5-9 junior who started his career at Wyoming, Birmingham was a second team All-American as a freshman and is currently second in the MIAA in rushing yards (498) and third in all-purpose yards. He's UCO's leading rusher and third leading receiver with 12 catches for 99 yards.
"I think their team goes as their running back goes," said Dorrel. "We just faced a good tailback, but this kid is a little bit different. I term him as more of a slasher. The kid from Northeastern was really downhill. I think (Birmingham) has better top-end speed."
Birmingham presents the biggest challenge to date for a Northwest defense that ranks third against the run, giving up 112.6 yards per game.
Last week, the Bearcats faced the MIAA's fourth leading rusher Joel Rockmore and held him to 57 yards on 17 carries.
"Our guys predicate everything they do on stopping the run and getting teams into third and medium and third long," said Dorrel. "I think sometimes maybe other teams panic and get away from their run game and from their game plan and just say 'hey, we can't run the football. Let's throw the ball. That would be great if they do that Saturday."
Page 3 of 3 - Nelson, a 6-4, 230-pound junior lefty has completed right at 52 percent of his passes for 1, 047 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Christian Hood, a 5-11 sophomore, leads UCO with 20 catches but hasn't scored a touchdown.
Redshirt freshman Marquis Walters has 15 catches and three touchdown receptions.
Defensively, the Bronchos have given up an average of 33.2 points per game. Teams are rushing for 193.6 yards per game against the Bronchos and passing for around 250.
However, UCO has better personnel and defensive numbers than any of Northwest's last three opponents.
Senior Herbert Byrd has been a force along the defensive line with 4.5 sacks and six tackles for loss.
Redshirt freshman Kenny Allen has a pair of sacks to his credit.
Junior defensive back Devoris Dozier leads UCO with 38 tackles. Junior Brad Harman is second with 37.
"Two safety look most of the time just like Northeastern State," said Dorrel. "They don't want to give up big pass plays. They don't blitz a ton. Towards the end of the Missouri Western game they really started bringing it."
Northwest's offense currently ranks 10th nationally and third in the MIAA in scoring at 41.6 points per game.
The Bearcats have averaged 50.3 points per game in their last three after a 27 point per game average in the first two.
Quarterback Trevor Adams returned from a two-game absence last week and had his best game of the year, completing 19-27 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns.
Starting running backs James Franklin III and Jordan Simmons combined for 139 yards on 18 attempts, putting both over the five yards per carry average mark for the first time all year.
Tyler Shaw and Simmons share the team lead in receptions with 23. Shaw is the team leader in yards with 354 and caught his fourth touchdown in the last games against NSU.
Defensively, Northwest ranks sixth nationally and first in the MIAA in points allowed at 12.6 per game.
Central Missouri is the only team to crack 13 against the Bearcats this year.
Northwest has also forced 14 turnovers, including seven in the last two games.