The Lincoln Blue Tigers feel like their are figuring out how to play with the rest of the MIAA, they just have to stay out of their own way.
That will be the key today for the Blue Tigers, as they travel to Warrensburg looking for their first win of the season in a matchup with the Central Missouri Mules. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Walton Stadium.
“We are trying to win them all,” Lincoln coach Jermaine Gales said. “We are not going to differentiate based on opponent or based on record. We said from Day 1 it’s not about the opponent, it’s about us and how we execute in what we do and how we control the turnovers. We control our own fate.”
These issues were evident in last week’s 66-17 loss at home to the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers, where Lincoln put the ball on the ground six times and lost five fumbles.
The five turnovers allowed the Lopers to jump out to a 42-7 halftime lead and a 59-7 lead after three quarters.
“Fundamentals, lack of fundamentals and execution,” Gales said. “We can’t turn the ball over in those situations. We talk about ball security, we put a premium on it. We just didn’t follow through with our execution at that point in time.”
Lincoln (0-8) is running into a Central Missouri team that is having a down year, but has been good at home. The Mules (2-6) are coming off a 27-14 road loss to Fort Hays State that moved their record on the road to 0-5 on the season.
At Walton Stadium it has been a different story, as Central Missouri has a 2-1 record, with the lone loss coming in a 40-32 Week 2 loss to Washburn — ranked No. 22 at the time.
“This is uncharted territory for my staff, for myself,” Gales said. “We have a few guys that were here, but I don’t know if they have ever been there either.”
Lincoln will be trying to slow down the Mules’ passing attack, as they run a similar spread offense the Blue Tigers run.
The Central Missouri offense all starts with redshirt sophomore quarterback Cedric Case (6-foot-3, 204 pounds).
Case has completed 64.75 percent (180-of-278) of his passes and thrown for 1,912 yards with 11 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Case has also tallied 62 rushing attempts for 143 yards and two scores.
“If we are going to take advantage of that, we have to be in the right spot,” Gales said on Case’s interception numbers. “Be where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there and we can benefit from some of those turnovers. He’s not just going to throw it to us, so we have to play good, solid defense if we are going to benefit.”
The Mules use a pair of players to haul in most of the passes for Case.
Redshirt junior wideout Arkell Smith (6-1, 194) leads the team with 39 receptions for 564 yards and six touchdowns, but redshirt senior running back Xavier Jackson (5-8, 168) is right behind him with 38 catches for 446 yards and a score.
Jackson has also ran the ball 77 times for 223 yards for three touchdowns.
“They get open,” Gales said. “And the quarterback throws it, and it’s pitch and catch. It’s very simple and they are able to do that. They can excel in the run game, but right now they are pitching and catching. So we have to defend that.”
Since the Mules’ offensive scheme is similar to Gales’ offense, Lincoln has been putting it’s starting defense against its starting offense some throughout the week to help replicate the Central Missouri offense.
“That always helps because it’s hard to simulate your opponent with a scout team, so it can’t hurt,” Gales said. “We prepared a tad bit differently this week, we went good versus good instead of scout team. We are trying to get the speed of the game replicated in practice so we can have a better shot at recognizing things on the move during the game.”
The Blue Tigers are expecting to see a lot of the same looks from Central Missouri’s defense they have seen in recent weeks.
“It’s going to be a lot of what we have been seeing the past few weeks,” Gales said. “They are similar schemes to Kearney, similar schemes to Southern, we just have to make sure we are that we are executing on our side of the ball.”
The Mules’ defense has relied heavily on forcing turnovers, as they have collected nine interceptions and four fumble recoveries in the first eight weeks.
Redshirt sophomore defensive back Noah Blair (6-3, 191) leads the team with three interceptions, while six other players have one pick.
Tasked with not turning the ball over with interceptions for Lincoln this afternoon will be Nathan Valencia, as Zamar Brake is fighting through an injury.
“I think we are going to roll with Valencia first this week,” Gales said. “Brake is a little banged up, so I want him to be able to protect himself while he’s in there. We are going to have to evaluate it come game time to see if he can run, and plant and do all those things. We will give him the nod at that time.”
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