Proceed with Caution: Eagles not taking wounded Wolves for granted
Before the football season began and even heading into 10-5A play, many observers viewed Plano West (3-3, 0-1) as potentially being the biggest threat to Allen's (5-1, 1-0) six-year district title run.
A 55-28 loss last week to McKinney Boyd changed many of those opinions.
But that one result isn't enough to make Allen look past West when the Wolves roll into Eagle Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"West is going to come out fighting and the kids know that," said Tom Westerberg, Allen head coach. "They need a win here, so that makes them dangerous, but we are used to getting the best shot from every team we play."
West's best shot frequently comes from its running game.
The Wolves trio of sophomore running back Sotonya Jamabo, junior running back Auston Anderson and senior quarterback Travis Korry has combined for 1,390 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground this season.
"They are running the ball pretty well right now," Westerberg said.
To counteract that, Allen will lean on a front seven that has been tremendously efficient all season.
"We have big, strong guys up front," Westerberg said, "and we expect them to continue putting on a lot of pressure."
The defensive line got a healthy dose of assistance from the linebacking corps in Allen's 56-0 decimation of Plano East to open district. Like the front line of the defense, the linebackers have been aided by quantity in addition to quality.
"We've been able to rotate quite a bit," Westerberg said. "And not as many snaps for our guys means they will be fresher as the game goes on."
But the onus won't only be on the front seven come Friday.
Korry will frequently stick to the intermediate passing game when he isn't handing the ball off or running himself, but has found proficient deep targets in seniors Zac Gideo and Connor Doyle. Whether it is on a lengthy pass or picking up yards after the catch, Gideo and Doyle are both averaging more than 20 yards per reception.
"It has been a couple weeks, but now we are going back up against a spread team," Westerberg said, "which is more what we're used to facing."
There won't be as much familiarity on defense.
While Allen has faced teams the past few weeks that its 3-4 defense was derived from or closely resembles, West runs a 4-3 front.
"That extra down lineman means more 1-on-1 blocks and 1-on-1 pass protection," Westerberg said.
The Wolves' defense has been hit or miss this season.
In its three wins (Flower Mound Marcus, South Garland, Flower Mound), West is allowing just under 18 points a game with the run-stopping of senior linebacker Jake Wodka and playmaking in the secondary of senior Davis Roeschke. The story is much different in the losses (Lake Highlands, Mesquite, McKinney Boyd) as poor tackling and gap control has the Wolves giving up 46 points per game.
Compare that to the Allen offense, which is putting up just over 39 points a game.
The Eagles hit a season-high 56 points against the Panthers thanks in large part to a shift at quarterback.
After rotating in (usually every third series) for the majority of the season, sophomore Kyler Murray got his first start in the district opener. The son of former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray continued to display the spark he had flashed in the first five games as he ran for 48 yards and two touchdowns while also completing 17-of-18 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Four of those catches were made by senior Oliver Pierce, who had been Allen's starting quarterback.
"I think having Oliver out there will definitely help Kyler," Westerberg said. "We didn't have a whole lot of receiver experience going into the season, but Kyler can look to Oliver and know he has been through the battles."
Putting Murray in at quarterback allows Pierce to move around the field more.
In addition to his usual role as punt returner, Pierce saw multiple snaps at defensive end, caught four passes for 27 yards and ran the ball twice for 30 yards and a touchdown against East.
"We can use Oliver in so many different sets," Westerberg said. "And he is willing to do whatever he can to help the team."
Allen's offensive shakeup proved fruitful in the district opener and the Eagles will get another look at their new offense Friday against a wounded, but still potentially dangerous Wolfpack.