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The Western Mustangs are 3-0, but coach Greg Marshall isn’t letting that fact paint over some of the issues he knows his football team has.
“We have to be more consistent,” he said.
In their three Ontario university games inconsistency is the one glaring problem that has haunted them.
On Saturday, the Mustangs defeated the McMaster Marauders 29-14 in Hamilton. The game was a struggle. Like their first two games the Mustangs would play a quarter of tremendous football before disappearing, especially offensively.
The Mustangs coaching staff played quarterback carousel, starting Chris Merchant before sitting him down in the third quarter to give Stevenson Bone a shot. Bone is a tough kid, but he doesn’t throw the ball like Merchant, so after a few short-armed tosses the Mustangs went back to Merchant in the fourth and he led them to an insurance touchdown.
That the Mustangs are 3-0 is more a credit to their defence and defensive part of the special teams. The defence, led by the linebackers, stopped McMaster three times on third down gambles and recovered a pair of fumbles, holding a pair of McMaster quarterbacks to 138 yards passing.
The special teams provided another touchdown when Fraser Sopik blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown. Sopik is also a member of the murderous linebacker corps. He led defensive players with nine tackles.
The Marauders didn’t help themselves, earning 12 penalties for 110 yards. They may have gotten the short end of that stick but the Marauders certainly helped a struggling Mustangs team.
Merchant finished with 189 yards passing and two interceptions. Bone had 73 yards and an interception.
Despite the quarterback switch, Merchant is the guy for the Mustangs, although Marshall said sitting him for the quarter was not simply based on his performance.
“Yes he’s our starter,” Marshall said. “But we evaluate them in practice, too. It’s not like the pros. They go through practice each week and we look at how they are doing. We don’t want any quarterback looking over their shoulder and that’s not the point of it, but at some point we’re in a football game we needed to win. Our coaches felt it was time to give Stevenson a shot but we had discussed this after the Guelph game as well.”
Merchant knows he needs to play better. He said he understands what the coaches wanted to do by pulling him.
The reality is, in an Ontario University Athletics year in which good quarterbacks are in danger of extinction, the Mustangs have one of the better ones in Merchant. The only other teams in that situation are Guelph with James Roberts, Michael Knevel at Laurier and maybe Nate Hobbs at Queen’s.
But Marshall also recognizes the Mustangs have to do a better job of sustaining drives and that has to happen with a better run game. The Mustangs are deep at the running back position, but they only had 29 yards rushing in the first half Saturday. They finished with 162 and that was a major factor why the Mustangs won the game in the second half.
“We had to be more consistent,” Marshall said. “We have to run the ball better. We have to block better for the run. I’ve been working with the defence a lot more, but I’m going to be looking at our running game. For me that’s No. 1 this week.”
The Mustangs will get a chance to practice that running game against Lancers on Saturday in Windsor. The Lancers may start former Mustang backup quarterback Ben Bergamin, who transferred to Windsor this year.
The Lancers have had a horrid start to the season, including an 82-10 loss to Guelph on Saturday.
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