The UW-La Crosse football team is exactly where it wanted to be at this point of the season in terms of wins and losses, carrying a 2-0 record after nonconference wins over Luther and Ripon.
However, in both contests, surges of production were followed by lulls, and the Eagles haven’t yet put together their best 60 minutes.
UW-L coach Mike Schmidt has spoken often about how the team needs to find more consistency, so in a sense, the bye week hits at a good time for the Eagles.
With two and a half weeks of training camp and two weeks of games under its belt, UW-L will use the bye week to assess its issues and prepare for the final nonconference game (Sept. 23 vs. Carroll) before starting the seven-week WIAC season.
“We’re excited for our bye week, and then Carroll, and getting better each week of the season,” senior linebacker Michael Garvey said Saturday. Garvey is the team’s leading tackler (16) after two weeks, and stepped up against Ripon as freshman Jake Krueger — an NCAA Division I transfer — was held out of the game due to an abdominal muscle strain.
Garvey and the Eagles defense have been up to the task against option-based offenses in the opening weeks, holding Luther to just seven points and Ripon to 14. Neither Carroll nor any team in the WIAC features that type of offense; Garvey said UW-L is ready for the change.
“I’m excited. I know our defense is excited to get back to what people would call normal football,” he said. “Two ‘W’s are two ‘W’s, it doesn’t matter what offense you play as long as you get those wins.”
The Eagles were able to get their running game going a bit against Ripon — not that they had to, though, because of senior receiver Nick Holcomb’s record-setting game of 10 catches, 263 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore running back Trenten Smith punched in two touchdowns — a 1-yard goal-line plunge and then a 20-yard burst up the middle — and senior quarterback Tarek Yaeggi got involved, picking up a couple first downs on designed runs.
When the run game was going well, Yaeggi said that was a product of simplifying things for their backs.
“We got with our backs at halftime and just told them to run. Just run the ball,” Yaeggi said. “They were making too many reads … once they starting running downhill, they looked so much better and it went so much smoother.”
The offensive line, which is working in four new starters from a year ago, had its moments against Ripon’s 3-3 defensive front, but also set some drives back with holding calls. Yaeggi said the biggest difference was the unit’s ability to fire off the ball.
“That’s huge in our offense — in times when we don’t run the ball well, it’s being we’re getting blown back, we’re not blowing guys off the line of scrimmage,” Yaeggi said. “Our offensive line did a great job being physical.”
Schmidt said the key to sustaining that success on the ground is getting the ballcarriers and tight ends to pull their weight more.
“We’ve got to find a way to get our playmakers to run a little better and our tight ends to block a little better to help out,” Schmidt said.