They appear to have found it after they dominated 23rd-ranked Angelo State, 38-14, in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
The win pushes the Wildcats to 7-0 overall, 5-0 in the Lone Star Conference and 2-0 in the LSC South, while the Rams fall to 5-2, 4-1 and 2-1. ACU will be back at Shotwell Stadium at 2 p.m. next Saturday when they host West Texas A&M in the Wildcats' homecoming contest.
The victory could also push the Wildcats to the No. 1 spot in the nation after Grand Valey State was upset by Hillsdale, 27-24, earlier Saturday. ACU has never been the nation's top-ranked team since it went to NCAA Division II in 1982.
With the No. 23 Angelo State Rams playing in their biggest home game since 2005 and in front of a homecoming crowd of 10,250 fans, the Wildcats dominated from the outset as they pushed the Rams all over the field both offensively and defensively.
The Rams entered the game with an NCAA Division II-best 27 sacks and allowing just 53.5 rushing yards per game. ACU allowed just one sack and ran the ball 47 times for 158 pounding, brusing, clock-chewing yards.
The offensive line of Tony Washington, Royland Tubbs, Matt Weber, Levi Wolfe, Trevis Turner and backup Neal Tivis dominated the line of scrimmage, while the ACU defensive front seven contained an ASU offense that had been averaging 434.3 yards (291.5 through the air) and 33.3 points per game. The Rams finished with 299 total yards and only seven points against the defense (ASU scored one on a fake field goal).
"We talked before this game about how it was time to establish the true identity of this team," ACU head coach Chris Thomsen said. "I think we've found it after (Saturday), and it's that we're a tough, physical football team. We believe we can run the ball, and we believe we can stop the run.
"That might not have been good enough the last couple of seasons in our league because of the offensive firepower that was so prevalant," he said. "But the identity of this team is toughness, and it starts with our defense and our offensive line is picking up on that."
The toughness showed itself in the third quarter after the Rams momentarily got back into the game.
With a 17-0 lead, the Wildcats were forced to punt after a three-and-out, giving the Rams the ball at their own 20-yard line with 12 minutes left in the quarter. ASU drove to the ACU 4-yard line where it faced fourth-and-goal. The Rams lined up for a 21-yard field goal attempt, but instead the holder Zach McCormick picked up the ball and scampered into the end zone to make it 17-7 with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
But ACU responded with a big drive that was highlighted by a big play by redshirt freshman Mitchell Gale.
On third-and-15 from his own 40, Gale found senior Dennis Campbell deep down the middle for a huge 42-yard gain that put the ball on the Rams' 18-yard line. Three plays later, Daryl Richardson found the end zone from five yards out -- his third rushing touchdown of the night -- to make it a 23-7 game with 3:43 to play.
The ACU defense then forced a three-and-out after the Wildcats swarmed the Rams deep in their own end of the field. The Wildcats got good field position at the ASU 38 and Gale hit Terrell Woodall for 13 yards to the 25. On second-and-11, Gale hit Richardson for 16 yards down to the 10-yard line to set the Wildcats up for another score.
The Rams made about their only defensive play of the night when Calvin Fance -- who entered the game with seven sacks -- dropped Gale for a seven-yard loss back to the 16-yard line. But the redshirt freshman from Alva, Okla., responded with a bullet over the middle to Reggie Brown, who caught the ball in stride and stepped into the end zone for a touchdown that made it 29-7 with 14:12 left in the game. Gale then capped the drive with a 2-point scoring pass to Chris Fowler to make it 31-7 and essentially put an end to the game.
The Wildcat defense then forced back-to-back turnovers with an interception by Drew Cuffee and a sack and forced fumble by Fred Thompson. After the fumble, the Wildcats iced the game when Richardson scored his fourth touchdown of the night on a 4-yard run that pushed the lead to 38-7 with 8:34 to play.
Richardson finished the night with 88 yards and four scores on 24 carries, while Gale was efficient, completing 18 of 24 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown.