By Kyle Naber, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com)- Fresh off a big win at Wisconsin Lutheran last week, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire football team returns to Carson Park on Saturday and will welcome the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for homecoming.
Last week, UW-Eau Claire was able to dominate the time of possession thanks to a strong balance of offense and a fantastic defensive performance. The 2016 team has officially made their mark in the history book now as well. The offense had somewhat of a historic day, doing some things that have not been done in quite some time. Eau Claire put up 40 points for the first time since 2011 at Saint John's. Most of the scoring came from JT Denhartog who accounted for five total touchdowns. Denhartog's four touchdown passes were the first time that a Blugold signal caller has done that since 2009 against UW-Oshkosh. Matt Knapp hauled in three scores and that also was a first since 2009 against UW-Oshkosh. Finally, Eau Claire converted two separate two-point conversions, which was their first two-point conversion since 2011.
The defense also had a strong day, forcing turnovers, getting pressure on the quarterback and holding the Warriors to 0-13 on third down conversions.
"Our guys just executed the game plan and executed the scheme," UW-Eau Claire head coach Dan Larson said. "If you would have asked me at the beginning of the week if I would have thought we were going to hold any team at the college level to zero third downs, I probably would have taken the bet."
This is a rare feat and something that has all of the coaching staff excited. Defensive coordinator Matt Ebner has seen great improvement from his defensive players understanding what the opponent wants to do.
"That's one thing that our players are doing a lot better job with," Ebner said. "Understanding the way teams are going to try to attack us in those third-down situations."
The Blugolds now will look to ride the momentum into the opening of Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) conference play and the homecoming game against the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Scouting the opponent:
UW-Stevens Point checks in at 3-0 on the season. A typical WIAC conference foe will look to spoil another UW-Eau Claire homecoming match-up. The rivalry between the Blugolds and Pointers dates back to 1919. The Blugolds won the first match-up 6-0. This will be the 84th match-up between the two teams and the 13th time Stevens Point has come to town for the homecoming game. Eau Claire is 4-7-1 in their previous homecoming games against the Pointers.
The Blugold defense will have to dig in for another tough opponent. The Pointers average just under 44 points a game and have a balanced attack with great speed from their skill position players. In order to win this one, the Blugolds will have to continue to improve on both sides of the ball, but one thing the team has stressed was turnovers.
"We can't afford to do that this week against Stevens Point, they are an explosive offense," Larson said. "If we give them more opportunities, it's a steep price to try and pay."
Another big key to the game will be the special teams play. Eau Claire welcomed back punter Ian Scott last week and again wants to be the best special teams unit on the field come Saturday. Steven's Point has some electric return men and currently lead the WIAC with an average of 36.7 yards on their kickoff returns.
Keys to the game:
-Get pressure on the quarterback- Starting Pointers quarterback Kyle Larson is questionable to play in this one. Larson has a hot start to the year throwing for 647 yards and 11 touchdowns. Whoever lines up at quarterback for the Pointers, it will be important to get pressure on him.
-Win on special teams- The game will take four complete quarters from the Blugolds to win, but they will have to be the best special teams unit on the field. Coach Larson values this heavily and Stevens Point has a very solid special teams.
-Own the tempo- Last week, Eau Claire was able to dominate the time of possession. This week they have to be able to maintain balance on offense and find ways to keep the crowd into the game.
-Prove who you are-Eau Claire will be welcoming back plenty of alumni and families to see this match-up. The Blugolds want to prove that they are different and they will get their chance in front of a great crowd Saturday afternoon at Carson Park.