It has been some time, likely years, since I have heard such a straight-forward, right-to-the-point, coach’s assessment of his team’s performance.
That may have been the highlight of UW-La Crosse’s home opener against NAIA force Dickinson State Saturday afternoon. Every player on the Eagles’ roster knew it, and so did the 2,768 fans who kicked back at Roger Harring Stadium and watched a 35-17 throttling of the home team.
This was, as UW-L coach Mike Schmidt so succinctly said, a good old-fashioned backside whooping. A day where the Blue Hawks owned what many still rightfully believe is a WIAC team on the rise.
That may still be the case, but it certainly wasn’t on Saturday.
“We got our butts kicked all over the place and it wasn’t even close. The game wasn’t even close. That is a butt-kicking. We weren’t ready to play and we got housed today,” said Schmidt, not even blinking.
The Eagles (2-1), despite an offense that misfired way too often in the first half and was struggling to hold its own in the trenches, only trailed 14-10 at the half of the nonconference game.
If UW-L could have somehow skipped the third quarter — a quarter that it was pushed up and down the field — it might have been a game. Instead, Dickinson State’s Hayden Gibson to Tyer Frye connection more closely resembled the Brett Favre-to-Sterling Sharpe days or the Aaron Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson show.
Unstoppable and highly potent.
Dickinson State, a 2-1 team that entered the contest ranked No. 20 in the hard-to-gauge NAIA, racked up 238 yards and 21 points in the third quarter against a UW-L defense that had no answers, appeared (understandably) gassed, yet had to keep coming back onto the field.
“We just couldn’t find a way off the field and their third-down percentage was unbelievable. You can’t win when you are just constantly on the field,” Schmidt said of the second half when Dickinson State held the ball for 20 minutes, 36 seconds to just 9:24 for the Eagles.
“Time of possession was outrageous. We couldn’t find a way to get a stop to get off the field, and that was because we were so bad early on. It was constantly third and short and it was never third and long.”
UW-L couldn’t get any kind of consistent pressure on Gibson, and the few times it did, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior with a big arm would slide outside the pocket and pick the Eagles’ secondary apart.
It was a frustrating day for the Eagles’ defense, which allowed 532 yards, 22 first downs and allowed the Blue Jackets to convert 12 of 18 on third-down attempts. Gibson completed 18 of 28 passes for 282 yards and two TDs, with nine of those completions going to the talented Frye, who finished with 132 receiving yards and two scores.
“It is not going to be easy to bounce back, especially after the big wins that we had. That is what makes football teams great, you have to come back from losses and do your best the next week,” said UW-L linebacker Rusty Murphy, who finished with 10 total tackles.
“Obviously, it didn’t go our way, but we have to make sure we can bounce back. When we get down in a game, we’ve got to be able to come back. We have to do better in preparing for the heat. I don’t think some of us were prepared, not ready for it.”
The sun’s intense heat, which created an 87-degree temperature and 93-degree heat index at kickoff, was compounded by a big, physical and talented Dickinson State team.
UW-L didn’t handle either well, but as Schmidt let his team know, it was just one game. A game in which they were outplayed badly, but a game that doesn’t count in the conference standings.
“We’ve just all got to play better. If we just made our plays (on offense), the defense would not have been out there that long. The defense was out there a lot, and it was tough on them,” said UW-L tight end Cole Spieker, who had six catches for 87 yards, including a 38-yard TD strike that brought UW-L within 14-10 in the second quarter.
“We are going to work our butt off this week and just get ready for the WIAC, and we are going to make a run.”
With a bye week on the schedule, UW-L has time to get up to speed. The mark of this year’s team will be if it can erase Saturday’s debacle quickly and completely.