After being allowed to catch its breath last week, the pressure is back on the Missouri S&T football team in the form of another competitive Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) opponent.
The Miners welcome league rival Saint Joseph's Saturday for the S&T Homecoming Game. Kickoff at Allgood-Bailey Stadium is set for 1 p.m.
S&T have a 2-4 overall record and a 1-1 GLVC mark while the Saint Joseph's Pumas come in at 5-1 and 2-0.
Last week the Miners ended a three-game road swing by keeping Kentucky Wesleyan winless with a 41-21 conference victory. That after S&T faced three nationally-ranked opponents in the first five weeks.
The Miners' schedule has been an all-or-nothing situation thus far. The combined record of the teams S&T has lost to this season is 18-6 while the combined record of the two squads the Miners have beaten is 0-11.
Saint Joseph's figures to be one of the highly-competitive foes, one in which a victory over would give the Miners some momentum heading into the final stretch of the campaign.
"This is a big one because starting out 2-4 you want to take the next step in the effort to get back to .500 and finish strong," said S&T head coach Tyler Fenwick. "Last week we played well for the most part. I felt we improved last week. (But) it's good for us to play the tough teams to get an idea of what you're up against and tell our kids where we want to go."
S&T and Saint Joseph's have split the previous eight games in the all-time series between the two schools. The Miners have won the last three meetings, including last season's 41-22 result in Rensselaer, Ind.
Last week the Pumas won their third consecutive game by holding on for a 34-26 league road victory over a 1-5 Quincy squad.
The Pumas have played a weak schedule so far. None of the teams they have met this fall have a winning record, with a combined 11-25 won-loss mark.
"They've changed defenses from where they've been," Fenwick said of Saint Joseph's. "They're more of a three-man front now. It looked like they've moved some linebackers to the defensive line. They've got some athletic kids in the secondary. And (sophomore linebacker Joel) Wimbley is one of the best linebackers in the conference.
"Offensively they've got some receivers who can do some things. Really, their strength is they've got some skill people who can catch it and run."
The Pumas feature a balanced offensive attack, led by the GLVC's leading rusher, junior running back Braxton Shelton. Shelton ran for 200 yards last week and has 734 yards so far this fall. As a unit the Pumas average 264 rushing yards per game, as sophomore running back Kobi Cook has added 353 yards and senior quarterback Billy VandeMerkt 270 on the ground.
Page 2 of 2 - VandeMerkt has completed 85-of-143 passes for 1,176 yards and 12 TDs. Julian Walker is the top target with 25 receptions. He caught 92 balls in 2012.
Wimbley leads the Puma defense with 52 tackles and two interceptions. He also has 12 tackles for losses. Saint Joseph's is ranked 11th in the NCAA Division II in rushing defense, allowing just 88.8 per game.
The Miners are also hoping for continued balance despite missing its leading rusher, sophomore Zenel Hudson, for a second straight week due to an ankle injury.
Hudson has 409 rushing yards and four TDs. However, Fenwick has been getting surprising mileage from a couple of players who have shifted positions as well as a true freshman.
Freshman Chris Kennard, who moved from wideout when the running back injuries began mounting for S&T, has rushed for 206 yards on 27 carries while freshman DeSoto Dickson has run for 162 yards on 29 carries and senior Anthony Moore, formerly a defensive player, has 123 yards on 31 attempts.
Against Kentucky Wesleyan Kennard rushed for 120 yards, Dickson 73 and Moore 39.
"Kennard, this is really his natural position," Fenwick said of running back. "Dixon is a true freshman who is really playing well. And Moore does some really good things. I like our backfield."
S&T is also hoping for a strong game from sophomore quarterback Reed Brown, who has had his ups and downs in his first year as the Miner starter. Brown has completed 123-of-212 passes for 1,255 yards, 14 interceptions and four TDs.
Junior wideout Melvin Stovall leads a balanced receiving group with 38 receptions for 329 yards while junior wideout Leon Moody has 28 catches for 288 yards, junior wideout Nick Taylor 23 for 275 and freshman Ben Matthews 16 for 176.
Senior linebacker Chris Emesih continues to lead the S&T defense in tackles with 30 solos and 45 total while senior free safety Mark Hopkins and junior linebacker Zach Melber each have 33 tackles. Junior lineman Dan Mauszycki leads the Miners with four sacks while Melber has three sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-losses.
Fenwick is hoping that if the Miner Homecoming festivities play a role, it will be a positive one for his players.
"Hopefully we'll have a good crowd," he said. "You can't let homecoming be a distraction; hopefully it will work for us. The kids are excited to play at home."