UW-La Crosse football: Eagles' offense potent, but points left on the field

UW-La Crosse's Troy Bailey, left, Spencer Susa, center and Oliver Vasanoja celebrate a touchdown by Bailey during Saturday's game at Veterans Memorial Field.

Rory O'Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune

It may seem a bit greedy to poke holes in an offense that put up 423 yards, had 19 first downs and scored 31 points in an all-around team victory on Saturday.

But UW-La Crosse’s players and coaches know they could have — and perhaps should have — scored more.

While the Eagles’ special teams and defense each scored a touchdown in UW-L’s 45-14 win over UW-Eau Claire on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Field, the offense misfired at times.

Other times when it clicked, the Eagles looked unstoppable. The challenge, UW-L coach Mike Schmidt said, is keeping his team’s high-powered offense in rhythm.

“That has really been the theme in some of our games. We have to be a lot more consistent in what we are doing. We can’t stay in rhythm, that has been our problem,” Schmidt said.

“We can’t stay in rhythm when we miss some big plays or whatever the case may be.”

Case in point: UW-L, thanks to a blocked punt and TD by Cole Spieker, an interception return for a TD by Luke Winnen, and a 27-yard TD pass from Tarek Yaeggi to Nick Holcomb, led 21-0 in the first quarter.

Yet it had 59 yards total offense.

“We left a lot on the field today. I couldn’t believe we were winning 21-0 with only 59 yards. That is not right,” said Holcomb, who had another memorable performance with five receptions for 129 yards and two TDs. “It is awesome… you can’t deny that being awesome, but you’ve also got to think offensively we can do better. We’ve got to get the defense off the field more.”

UW-L’s offense did click in the second quarter as it pieced together 10-play, 52-yard yard drive that Bryce Wesling capped with a 20-yard field goal. The Eagles also strung together a nine-play, 95-yard drive that chewed up 3 minutes, 59 seconds and was capped by a 20-yard scoring pass from Yaeggi to Spieker.

“For me, it is frustrating. I get really upset when I see it is fourth down and we have to run off the field and the kicker comes in. If the kicker comes on, the offense isn’t doing their job,” said Yaeggi, who completed 15 of 33 passes for 290 yards with three TDs.

“It should only be for extra points. I get really upset whenever we settle for a field goal because that means we are just leaving points out there. Especially when we have a mistake that hurts ourselves. Not many times do we actually get stopped by the defense. It is more we stop ourselves.”

UW-L, with Holcomb and Ryan Kruser (5 catches, 80 yards) and Spieker (2 catches, 32 yards, TD) doing much of the damage, averaged 19.3 yards per completion Saturday against the Blugolds, but several drops and an equal number of overthrown passes left them wondering what might have been.

“At the end of the day you can knit-pick at everything where we need to get better, but that just shows what kind of team we can be,” Yaeggi said. “We are still not playing our best football.”

BAILEY STRONG: UW-L running back Troy Bailey had nine carries for 19 yards in the second half as the Eagles were inconsistent at moving the ball on the ground. In the second half, he had nine carries for 66 yards, giving him 18 for 82 on the day.

Overall, UW-L rushed 34 times for 133 yards, or 3.9 yards per attempt.

“Troy certainly did a good job. We have to find a way to get some more vertical movement up front. That was our problem today,” Schmidt said. “When Troy could finally get his shoulders squared up and get down field vertically, we had a lot of success with the running game.”

TOUGH ‘D’: UW-L’s defense was superb in the first half against Eau Claire, as the defensive front consistently overpowered the Blugolds in the trenches.

UW-L held Eau Claire to 83 total yards in the first half and 284 for the game.

“The defense played about as well as it could have in the first half. I mean, geez, they were just all over everything,” Schmidt said. “I thought we had a really great handle on what was going on out there, not only our players, but our coaching staff in the play calls.

“I thought we did a great job, although we do have to find a way to finish better.”

WEBER OUT: Ryan Weber, 5-foot-9, 200-pound senior standout defensive back from Holmen, missed Saturday’s game with a foot injury. His status is questionable for Friday night’s game at Whitewater.

“Weber has an injured foot and we are going to see if we can get him back here for next week,” Schmidt said. “I think we are going to have a shot at it.”

Entering Saturday’s game, Weber was third on the team with 18 total tackles, including a sack.

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