By Kyle Naber, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com)- A week removed from a big win over the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the UW-Eau Claire football team faced a tall order last week, taking on No. 2-ranked UW-Whitewater.
Things got off to a slow start for both teams, with the Warhawks striking first with a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing drive, JT DenHartog (So. – Hopkins, MN) would throw an interception that would be returned 18 yards to set up Whitewater in great field position and another score. Whitewater's Drew Patterson had a big day, scoring four total touchdowns for the Warhawks.
The bright spot for Eau Claire came late in the second quarter when DenHartog found Matt Knapp (Sr. – Eau Claire, WI/Memorial) wide open on a fly route for a 59-yard bomb to put the Blugolds on the board.
Overall, the Warhawks, who have tremendous depth, outmatched the injury-plagued Blugolds. Whitewater was able to take advantage of early opportunities and put pressure on the Blugold offense; not allowing them to get anything going on the ground, getting after DenHartog, and being extremely tough on third downs.
Scouting the opponent:
Eau Claire now moves to 2-6 on the season and it does not get any easier as they will have to take on another ranked team in No. 17 UW-Platteville. The Pioneers are fresh off a big win over UW-Stout, 55-27. Last year, Eau Claire and Platteville battled in a very intense game that eventually went in favor of the Pioneers. This year, the Blugolds will have to make the long trip to Platteville and will look to deny the Pioneers' attempt for a post-season birth.
When looking at Platteville, they are extremely deep at the skill positions. Leading the way is quarterback Tom Kelly, who has 27 passing touchdowns on the season, which is tied for sixth-best in the nation. Kelly has two big-time playmakers at the wide out corps in Dan Arnold and Quinn Buschbacher.
Platteville has a solid defense, but like last year there is room for Eau Claire to operate. DenHartog was huge last year and will certainly be a big factor in this one. In the final road game for the 2016 group of seniors, Eau Claire will look to continue to play hard.
Both Brandon Luedke (Sr. – Wausau, WI/East) and Head Coach Dan Larson said that while this game from the outside could be seen as just a potential spoiler, that isn't the feeling within the team coming into this game. The team feels that they still have a lot to play for and to prove in the final games of the season.
Keys to the game:
-Build on the future- Last week the offense was able to get a number of guys into the mix again. Big plays were much more frequent in the second half of last week game and Larson said that it was nice to see guys like Brody Diggins (Jr. – Rochester, MN), Dalton Peterson (So. – Lakeville, MN/South), and Steven Paoli II (Fr. – Kronenwetter, WI/D.C. Everest) get into the action and show up in the box score. They will need these guys to do it again and of course will look for Knapp to continue his impressive season. At the end of the day, Eau Claire needs to have DenHartog take over the game and establish the run on offense.
-Win on special teams- A usual feature in the keys to the game, but always an important one. Eau Claire can win the special teams battle this week, but it will take a great effort. Last week, we saw the Blugolds mix it up with punter Ian Scott (Sr. – Mondovi, WI) running some fake punts. Platteville owns the best average and net average on their punts, however, Eau Claire has the best punt return yard average in the WIAC, thanks to Knapp.
-Play Physical & Prove it- Eau Claire still has a lot to play for; they believe that these next two games, while difficult, are winnable. The Blugolds will have to show up physically in this game but they should be ready to roll. Injuries have taken a toll on this team, but they have proven that from the top to the bottom of the roster, every man on the team is ready to play and play hard. They will need an all-out effort Saturday. As Coach Larson says, "control what you can control," and the Blugolds will be ready to go on Saturday afternoon in Platteville.