By Kyle Naber, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com)- After falling in the 2016 edition of the War on I-94, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire football team returns home to Carson Park for a match-up with the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
In a 30-7 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the young Blugold squad showed some growing pains with another slow start.
After struggling to move the football, quarterback JT DenHartog (So. – Hopkins, MN) was sidelined late in the second quarter. Head Coach Dan Larson said this was merely an attempt to get his young signal caller to see some things.
"Honestly, JT had struggled in the first half and he wasn't seeing things that we had worked on all week and talked about," Larson said. "I just thought it was one of those things where he needed to step back and watch what was going on the field."
As UW-Stout was driving in the final minutes of the first half, the Blugold defense made a big play as De'Angelo Roberson (Fr. - Mount Prospect, IL) intercepted a pass and almost took it back for a touchdown.
However, the momentum shifted back to the Blue Devils in the second half as they took the first offensive snap to the house for an 85-yard touchdown run. The Blugold defense then settled in and held Stout to just a field goal the rest of the way.
After giving up the long touchdown, DenHartog led the Blugold offense on a methodical 16-play, 96-yard drive capped off with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tye McLaughlin (Jr. – Eau Claire, WI/Memorial). But it would be too little, too late as the Blugolds would fall, 30-7.
Scouting the Opponent:
What makes the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) so difficult is that there is no off-week; every team is physical and hungry for victories. The Blugolds return home to face UW-La Crosse, an upstart team out to a 5-1 start with their first loss coming last week against No. 2-ranked UW-Whitewater.
La Crosse was just 3-7 last season and like Eau Claire, welcome a new head coach in former UW-Platteville defensive coordinator and Eagle alum, Mike Schmidt. The Eagles now boast one of the best scoring offenses in the WIAC. They have a dynamic offense starting through the air and have the best passing defense in the WIAC. Last week the Eagles were able to throw for over 400 yards and only allowed 166 yards through the air. The Eagle defense has only allowed one passing touchdown so far in conference play.
Overall, this is a game where Eau Claire has to start fast and they must establish the run. In the past few weeks they have allowed teams to key in on DenHartog and the passing game due to the lack of a ground attack. Gerald Childs (Jr. – Brookfield, WI/East) returned from injury last week and will look to lead the Blugold running backs.
Keys to the Game:
-Start Fast- The Blugolds will be tested with an 11:30 a.m. start, the earliest of the season. Eau Claire has to get things going early and has to take advantage of the home crowd.
-Convert and stop on third downs- Eau Claire has struggled the past few weeks to sustain drives. The Blugolds are currently last in the WIAC with a 27.8 percent conversion rate. Larson has stressed the importance of being good on first and second down to help make third downs manageable. Conversely, the Eagles are the best in the WIAC on third down conversions with a success rate of 55.4 percent. The Blugolds will have to bring their best to keep the offense on the field and the defense off.
Follow the action Saturday on Blugold Game Day.