By Kyle Naber, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com)- The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire football team played in a tough 41-21 defeat last week at River Falls, but will strap it up again this week under the lights in Menomonie for the 2016 edition of the War on I-94 against UW-Stout.
In last week's match-up with UW-River Falls, the Blugolds were able to force a turnover on the first play of the game. The initial drive quickly stalled, but a poor snap on fourth down led to punter Ian Scott (Sr. - Mondovi, WI) rushing for the first down. Eau Claire would struggle to move the ball the rest of the half against River Falls and the Falcons were able to take advantage of some opportunities and score twice in the second quarter to take a 14-0 lead.
The slow game continued for Eau Claire as they saw River Falls do the only scoring in the third quarter as well. But the Blugolds came alive in the fourth quarter as Matt Knapp (Sr. – Eau Claire, WI) started things off with a huge return and after four plays it was JT Denhartog (So. – Hopkins, MN) running it in for the score. However, the Falcons were able to respond to maintain the lead.
Eau Claire found themselves in a lot of third and long situations on offense, which lead to the poor conversion rate for the day. Defensively, the team was not expecting such a strong aerial attack from the Falcons' two-quarterback system.
The Blugolds will look to bounce back this week at Stout for their biggest rivalry game of the season.
Scouting the opponent:
Both teams are coming off defeats and will be looking to get their first win in Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) play. A key for Eau Claire will be to continue to stop the pass. After having one of the best passing games last season, Stout has struggled to move the ball offensively in 2016, especially through the air where they rank last in yards per game in the conference.
Stout is similar to River Falls in that they have two players share the quarterback duties. It will be important for the Blugolds to shut down the pass no matter who is behind center and force the Blue Devils to become one-dimensional. Stout has some playmakers in their wide out core that have yet to really get it going and Eau Claire will look to continue to keep them quiet.
After having a difficult time establishing the run last week, the Blugold backs should have an easier time finding room to run this week. Stout has given up an average of over 150 yards on the ground so far this season. This should give Denhartog opportunities to continue to use his feet to set up some big plays.
Field position will be another key to success. Points could be at a premium with both teams sputtering a bit last week on offense. Eau Claire will have to compensate for Stout's Drew Pearson, who is one of the best kickers in the WIAC. He is 8-10 on field goals this season and has not missed from 40 yards or more. Head coach Dan Larson said that while he is certainly dangerous once the Blue Devils cross the 50 yard-line, he will trade field goals for touchdowns any day.
Keys to the Game:
-Play four quarters- The Blugolds have to play a complete game on Saturday. They will need to make some plays on both sides of the ball, play hard, and play physical against another tough WIAC opponent.
-Establish the run- The Blugolds need to maintain balance on offense. While the Blugold running game will still feature a lot of Denhartog, Eau Claire will need to get significant carries from Brian Kulaga (So. – Riverside, IL) as well.
-Keep Matt Knapp going- The senior wide receiver and return man has hit the century mark in each of the last four games. The Blugolds will need another big game from the team captain.
-Get Pressure, Stop Pressure- The Blugolds are last in the WIAC in sacks allowed and the offense has given up the most. Eau Claire needs to find ways to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks and protect Denhartog to earn their first conference win.