Making the transition from breakout star to a productive, known commodity in college football can be difficult. Just two games into his senior season, UW-La Crosse’s Ryan Kruser is seeing that prove to be true.
Kruser was the surprise of the Eagles’ season in 2016, coming from the UW-L basketball team and joining the football program, leading it in all-purpose yards as a do-it-all receiver, rusher and return man. Through two games last season, Kruser had gained 84 yards from scrimmage (five rushes and three catches) and had 174 return yards, including a 76-yard punt return touchdown.
After two weeks this season, Kruser has yet to have a rushing attempt, and has 30 yards on seven catches. Those numbers are going to change, and quickly, UW-L (2-0) coach Mike Schmidt said, starting with today’s 3 p.m. game against Carroll (1-1) at Veterans Memorial Field.
“We addressed that a lot on the bye week,” Schmidt said of getting Kruser more involved in the offense. “We’ve got to get him more touches, without a doubt.”
When Kruser came to the team last season, it had its outside receivers set in seniors Joel Oxton and Sam Zwieg, so Kruser found his home in the slot. It was from that position that Kruser became a weapon on jet-sweep plays and established a connection with quarterback Tarek Yaeggi to the point that late in the season Kruser tallied 12 catches in a game.
This season, with just senior Nick Holcomb occupying one of the outside receiver roles, Kruser moved to the outside.
“Slot was new for me last year, but I played there all of last year and got a feel for it, and it’s where I feel most comfortable I’d say,” Kruser said. “(Playing outside is) definitely something new for me. It’s a spot I played in high school, so I’m not super unfamiliar with it, but I hadn’t done it in college.”
Kruser faced more press coverage on the outside, affecting his ability to get off the line of scrimmage and ultimately the timing on his routes. Kruser said he spoke often with Holcomb and UW-L receivers coach Frank Tierney about how to improve his release, and said he’s more comfortable with those skills now.
Schmidt said Kruser will return to the slot receiver role today, and Kruser said he’s ready to settle back in there.
"That comfort level and knowing the plays from that spot too are big,” he said.
The jet-sweep action from which Kruser got nearly all of his carries last season hasn’t been as prevalent in the Eagles’ offense thus far this year, but with Kruser moving back to the slot and the size Carroll has on the interior, we may see UW-L attack the edge more.
Schmidt and his staff has preached building depth at all positions. What Kruser provides as someone who can play both slot and outside positions not only keeps him on the field regardless of the situation, but also allows him to teach the younger players in the Eagles’ talented receiver group.
“Kruser’s a smart player. He can play outside and inside, and does a great job. He picks up the slack where we need it to be picked up,” Yaeggi said.
While the catches and rushes haven’t been there quite yet for Kruser, he does have 102 return yards, and has been close to breaking through for a long one on multiple occasions. He was tripped up by the kicker — the last man to beat — on a kickoff return against Luther in Week 1, and sees today’s game as another chance to make something happen in the return game.
“Hopefully we can get something going here,” Kruser said. “All the credit goes to the guys up front, hopefully we can find a crease and get one to the house.”