An old footbal axiom states that the greatest improvement a team ever makes happens between its first game and its second game.
Based on outcomes, that’s true of the Lindenwood University-Belleville Lynx, who spun a week 1 loss to Siena Heights into a come-from-behind victory at Olivet Nazarene last week.
But first-year head coach Dale Carlson says the Lynx — especially the offense — still have plenty of upside.
“As I tried to remind all of our coaches, it’s still been just six weeks since we began working on this offense,” Carlson said. “It takes some time, so we have to keep working and harping on the fundamentals.
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“We saw marked improvement at Olivet, but I think there are still big steps to be made, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”
The next test comes Saturday in Davenport, Iowa ,when LU-B takes on the St. Ambrose Fighting Bees, one of the traditional Mid-States Football Association powerhouses. With that first win now under their belts, Carlson says his team is looking forward to the challenge.
“St. Ambrose is the type of program that generally just reloads,” he said. “That’s been their M.O. for the last 15 years. So we’ll have our hands full, but you have to look at is another opportunity to see how we stack up.”
SATURDAY’S GAME: Lindenwood-Belleville (1-1) at St. Ambrose(1-0), 1 p.m.
LAST WEEK: LU-B picked up its first win of the season in defeating Olivet Nazarene, 24-23; St. Ambrose got a rare week off. The Bees defeated Concordia (Mich.) 25-21 in week 1.
LAST MEETING: St. Ambrose defeated LU-B, 48-30 in the final week of last season, the only time the two teams have ever met.
Both the offense and defense continue to evolve under Carlson. Kam Harris, a fourth year starter and Althoff graduate, picked up 134 net yards rushing and a touchdown on 30 carriers. His performance outgained team rushing totals in the week 1 loss.
But Carlson’s 28-year history as a head coach shows he prefers a more balanced attack and the passing game, though improved, still needs work in the new scheme. Quarterback Tarean Austin has completed 29 of 78 passes for 309 yards and a passer efficiency rating of 67.0.
“We had some opportunities for some big passing plays (against Olivet Nazarene) and just didn’t connect,” he said. “There were some overthrows and underthrows, some drops and some of the timing just wasn’t there. We have to start making some of those plays.
“But there again, because this is something that is totally knew, there is upside for us every week offensively. It just takes time.”
Though the defense has been prone to the big play, winning the turnover battle with three interceptions last week represented growth, Carlson said. With 13 tackles against Olivet, senior linebacker Matt Blacharczyk, a Belleville East graduate, was the MSFA Defensive Player of the Week.
Scouting St. Ambrose
The Fighting Bees are a mainstay at the top of the Mid-States Football Association standings. Under ninth year head coach Mike Magistrelli (55-30), St. Ambrose has won three MSFA championships — most recently in 2012 — and been to the NAIA national playoffs four times.
With just five returning starters, last season was considered a down year, even at 5-5. The Bees are still young, but seasoned and coming off a strong finish.
Junior quarterback Patrick Smith has led the offense since winning the starting job after the third week of 2014. He threw for 1,791 yards and 19 touchdown passes and St. Ambrose was 4-2 with him under center. He goes to a pair of primary receivers including Brad Conner, who entered this season ranked fifth all time in school history at 1,597 career receiving yards, and Chris Klotz, who was named the MFSA’s week 1 offensive player of the week after catching eight passes for 146 yards in a win over Concordia (Mich.).
Linebacker Sean Murphy leads seven returning starters from a defense that surrendered 25.6 points per game a year ago. That figure might be misleading, cautions Carlson, because the overall quality of MFSA offenses. Five teams from the conference rank nationally in the top 20 of total offense.