Following Gilmer's 42-14 victory over the Jasper Bulldogs last Friday night, Buckeyes' head coach Jeff Traylor promised his players a hard week of practice in hopes of improving his team's lackluster offensive performance in the first half.
Unfortunately for the Rains Wildcats, the Buckeyes' opponent in Thursday night's Trinity Mother Frances' Football Classic, Gilmer is determined to correct their mistakes.
"You always have to take the opponent into consideration some," said Traylor, about the under dog Wildcats. "But we're always going to worry about us, especially because we didn't play real well. There will be a tremendous emphasis on small things and execution no matter who we were playing this week."
Who the Buckeyes are playing this week is a team that lost 43-0 last week to Mount Vernon. The same team that Gilmer destroyed 77-21 last season. Despite those lopsided scores, Rains head coach Brannon Kidd is happy to be playing the Buckeyes.
"We're excited," Kidd said. "There's been a lot of enthusiasm since last year when we played Gilmer and knowing that we were going to play them in the Classic this year. The kids are real excited."
Kidd's enthusiasm showed in the Wildcats visit to Buckeye Stadium last year, especially after Gilmer quarterback Darian Godfrey, took the first snap from center and fired a pass directly to the Wildcats' Dakota Barker, who raced untouched 52 yards for a touchdown and an 8-0 Rains lead.
"It was a great feeling. After that interception, it picked up their confidence, it picked up their spirits a little bit," said Kidd, who added that is why he wanted to schedule Gilmer. "You're always excited when you play the number one team. It challenges you. You can always play the doormats of some district, but are you getting any better? When you play the number one ranked team, you're going to make yourself better."
Traylor's goal for the Buckeyes is to also get better, after his offense managed only 91 yards and 8 points in the first half against Jasper.
"Your teams always improve the most between game one and game two, and I expect us to be much better by Thursday," said Traylor. "They know that they didn't play real well, so they won't even talk about Rains. They're going to be worried about how they play."
Godfrey expects the Buckeyes to respond to the challenge. "We should come out and play well," said the senior quarterback. "We can't come out and play flat because then everybody may start questioning if we're really number one and we might start questioning ourselves."
No one would blame the Wildcats for questioning themselves, as Rains is 2-9 in Kidd's spread offense. But Traylor knows how difficult installing the spread offense is. "Sometimes we can't score against air," said Traylor who is 98-17 in his tenth season at Gilmer.
Traylor's first two teams never averaged more than 265 yards per game before the offense started to gel in 2002. Since that season, Gilmer's offense has averaged more than 466 yards per game.
"Coach Traylor is right," said Kidd. "You've really got to be hitting on all cylinders and your biggest part is the offensive line. If your offensive line is not producing then everything is going to struggle."
"It's been a change of mentality," continued Kidd. "They ran a split back veer under Coach Ken Little for the five years he was here. Going to the spread, it's a big difference."
It's also a big difference to go from a senior dominated team like the one Kidd inherited last year, to this year's squad of unproven players.
"This year we're real young," admitted Kidd. "We've got a lot of young kids playing, that's why it's taking us a little longer to get things going the right direction offensively."
"We've kind of got a rotation at quarterback with sophomore Shay Sellers and senior Trevor Vandeventer," said Kidd. "But our real inexperience comes in at running back. We've got a sophomore [Cody Dickens] and a freshman [Dustin Fry] at running back. The freshman has a lot of skill that you can't coach. We're counting on a young backfield to produce some yardage."
"Defensively we're playing a lot better this year than we were last year," said Kidd about his multiple front defense. "Our fireplug and our emotional leader is Nate Carista. He's the one that's going to be out there getting the defense fired up. He's not very big, but for what he lacks in size, he makes up for it with heart and effort."
Kidd said that Jasper's first half effort against Gilmer was beneficial to his team. "We learned a few things," admitted Kidd. "We're not probably going to duplicate what Jasper does. We're not going to change our schemes to copy what Jasper did, you know we're going to do what we do, but we'll throw a few wrinkles in there."
"We're just trying to build each week," summed up Kidd. "Of course we go into every game thinking we're going to come out on top. Every kid puts their shoes on one at a time. Any given Friday, or Thursday night in this case, can be anybody's game."
Traylor admitted that the chance of that happening increased with the loss of two key players to injuries in the Jasper game. Senior Ben Griffith and junior Gus Osborne will both miss the Rains game.
"Obviously when you lose your starting tailback and one of your best receivers you're concerned," Traylor said. "You hate to lose a back like Gus. We'll miss him on defense too. He returns kicks; he does a lot of things. Ben's the punter, starting cornerback and starting wide receiver. You lost in essence about six players in those two kids. That's how much Ben and Gus do."
Despite the loss, Traylor was pragmatic. "Injuries are part of the game," said Traylor. "We play a lot of kids and there's a reason that we do that; it's so we always have somebody ready. That's what everybody in this program is waiting for. Now some kids will get their opportunity right now."
That opportunity will come at one of Traylor's favorite venues, Tyler's Rose Stadium. "Anybody that grew up in East Texas knows there have been so many big games played over there. It's just a great experience to play there," explained Traylor, who is 7-2 at Rose Stadium including a 5-0 record in the Classic.