FULTON - Though the Fulton Hornets are eager for their home opener, head coach Pat Kelley said his team is thankful just to have another opportunity to redeem itself.
"Probably after last week, the thing they're excited about the most is the fact that we get another chance to play and prove we're not the kind of football team that we showed last week," Kelley said as his team practiced Tuesday afternoon.
The Hornets (0-1) open their home schedule tonight against the Versailles Tigers at Robert E. Fisher Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Fulton will try to erase the memory of a 41-14 defeat at School of the Osage in last week's season opener. The Hornets struggled to consistently move the ball on offense and stop the big play on defense. There were signs of executing those objectives as the game wore on, but not frequently enough to erase a 28-0 halftime deficit.
"We have to keep working on it and working on it, and it's kind of a mindset," Kelley said of his team's slow start last week. "It's frustrating not to finish things off, but we'll get reps this week and work on that."
Success on offense starts with a more concerted effort to seal the perimeter and heading off pressure from edge rushers. Fulton quarterbacks were sacked four times for a combined loss of 40 yards as the Indians' constant outside rush kept the Hornets from establishing a rhythm with the ball.
Versailles shut out Knob Noster 26-0 in its opener last week for its first victory since topping Southern Boone in October 2012. The Tigers forced a pair of turnovers against Knob Noster and are playing with the kind of confidence that can carry over to the next game if they can make their defensive presence felt in the Fulton backfield.
"We didn't pick up pressure very well and we're going to continue to work this week on picking up blitzes so we can keep the backfield clean, and make cuts and breaks and things like that," Kelley said.
The Hornets rushed for just 92 yards on 43 carries (2.13 average) against Osage, a stat that left them in a lot of long passing downs.
"From an offensive perspective, and we've talked about it, we need to do a better job blocking on the perimeter on our run plays to the outside," Kelley said.
The Versailles offense is one Fulton will be familiar with as it shares some core similarities to some of the Hornets' sets. The Tigers run a spread just like Fulton and tries to use the athleticism of their quarterback to make plays in the open field.
Senior quarterback Michael Allen guides the Tigers' shotgun, double-wing attack and does a little bit of everything as a big body for opposing defenses to bring down.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Allen completed just seven passes in the Tigers' 44-33 loss to the Hornets last year in Versailles, but those throws totaled 261 yards and two touchdowns covering 63 and 41 yards, respectively.
Allen threw for a score and ran for a touchdown against Knob Noster.
"He likes to run the ball and when you look at them from that standpoint, that's probably the biggest thing you see," Kelley said. "He'll run the ball and he doesn't throw a bad ball."
Kelley noted the Tigers' penchant for misdirection plays will make it hard to key on just one aspect of their offense. Allen has the discretion to throw the ball, take off on a keeper or hand it off to one of his running back for a long gain.
Freshman Kooper Wilson (5-8, 140) scored from 21 yards out last week, while fellow freshman running back Taylor Dobbins (5-9, 165) broke loose for a 67-yard touchdown run.
The Fulton defense was strong up the middle on occasion against Osage, but was roughed up for long gains on the interior a few too many times for Kelley's liking. He noted the Tigers like to bounce runs outside, but stressed the Hornets can't ignore their ability to break one off inside.
"We haven't seen a lot of - and I'm sure they do - a lot of them running in the middle. ... When they start (a play), we can't just automatically assume it's a pitch sweep," Kelley said. "We have to watch for inside counter (plays) because they like that.
"We have to do a better job, we kind of got soft in the middle a couple of plays, so those are things we have to concentrate on and make sure we're on assignment and staying home more," Kelley said.