Wednesday, August 31, 2011
WIAC Two-a-days Part 5: UW-Eau Claire
Head Coach: Todd Glaser; 9th season (6th at UWEC); 41-41 (overall) / 28-24 (UWEC)
Starters Returning/Lost on Offense: 11/0
Starters Returning/Lost on Defense: 8/3
Starters Returning/Lost at Kicker: 1/1
Returning All-WIAC: David Goodman (Sr., WR, 2009-Second, 2010-Honorable); Andy Neumann (Sr., LB, 2010-Second); Joel Sweeney (So., RB, 2010-Second); Matt Withrow (Sr., OL, 2010-Second)
The BluGolds had an up and down season in 2010 winning 3 of their first 4 games including victories over perennial MIAC power St. John’s and a Stevens Point team that finished at 2nd in the conference. Things then took a turn for the worse as UWEC lost 5 of its final 6. In each of its losses in that stretch the BluGolds failed to hold their opponents under 35 points. Joel Sweeney emerged as big time back rushing for over 1,000 yards and 12 TDs in his freshman campaign. Austin Neu took over at quarterback after serving as the team’s punter in 2009 and threw for 1,766 yards and 9 TDs but also threw 7 picks. David Goodman was the team’s top receiver with 47 catches for 684 yards and 3 scores.
As noted in the “fast facts’ section the BluGolds return ALL ELEVEN STARTERS on offense: how is that for continuity? Also the defense returns 3 of its top 4 tacklers but that might not be a good thing as this team allowed 31.5 points per game overall and 34.8 ppg in conference play in 2010. While returning 11 starters on offense is encouraging, particularly having all 5 offensive linemen back, I still question Neu’s ability to run the offense, his arm won’t wow anybody and his decision making is suspect given his near 1:1 interception to touchdown ratio. But he should have it pretty easy because the BluGold run game should be sick with Sweeney and the entire offensive line back. But run defense is going to be an issue for this team which gave up 180 yards per game on the ground in 2010. And with how many good backs there are in the WIAC stopping the ground game is paramount to success. I expect UWEC to slow the game down and play time of possession to try to keep the offense on the field, and thus their defense off it, for as long as possible.
Will the BluGolds be able to out gain their opponents on the ground this season?
They couldn’t do it last year despite having a 1,000 yard rusher. They were probably hurt by the fact that the line gave up 28 sacks for 153 yards. That is about 3 sacks per game with 15 yards lost right there. By contrast UWEC got to the quarterback only 14 times last year. That’s right; Neu was on the ground twice as often as his opposing quarterbacks. Hopefully for Eau Claire that continuity on the offensive line can help open up some holes for Sweeney and keep Neu upright. On the flipside of this issue UWEC can’t have safeties Chad Samuelson and Kyle Thorpe be their number 3 and 4 leading tacklers again. Linebacker Kalan Stittleburg and lineman Nate Johnson need to join Andy Neumann near the top of the tacklers list in order for UWEC to best their opponents on the ground.
Player to Watch:
This guy is an absolute beast. The fact that he rushed for over 1,000 yards in his freshman year is incredible. Especially considering that opponents could load up the box against him. Sweeney is a 6 foot 1 inch 249 pound bruiser in the mold of a John Clay. Sweeney turned many heads last year including that of Joel Badzinski who featured him in an article about former WIAC freshmen phenoms. The way I see things Sweeney is primed for a huge year.
The BluGolds need to ride Sweeney this year. If they can win time of possession and gain more rushing yards than their opponents the BluGolds will be in every game. If not, this looks to be another long season for the boys from Carson Park.
Here is some audio of Head Coach Todd Glaser talking about his team.
Part 6 will be out later today and will feature the UW-Oshkosh Titans.