NSU, Lincoln meet in battle of winless teams

Byron Beers | Daily Press

NSU freshman defensive back Taoheed Karim tries to bring down Washburn receiver Dwane Simmons on Saturday, Oct. 12 at Doc Wadley Stadium.

There will only be one winless team remaining in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association following Saturday's games.

It comes down to Northeastern State and Lincoln when the two teams face one another in a 2 p.m. kickoff at Dwight T. Reed Stadium in Jefferson City, Missouri.

The RiverHawks (0-6) are trying to end what is approaching a two-year drought, while the Blue Tigers (0-6) are trying to break through for the first time since rejoining the conference last October.

"This is one of those games that whenever you look at it and you get in this conference, you realize that each week is a tough challenge," said NSU first-year head coach J.J. Eckert on Wednesday. "There are some very, very talented teams in this league, and Lincoln is one of them."

NSU hasn't been able to fit all of the pieces together in a single game, whether it's the offense, defense or special teams.

Whenever there's a step forward there's 15 going the other direction.

Over the last two weeks, the RiverHawks' defense has given up north of 1,200 total yards, 937 of those on the ground, in losses at Nebraska-Kearney (45-10) and last week to Washburn (70-13) at Doc Wadley Stadium.

To go a step further, they're dead last in the nation in rushing yards allowed.

They will have to contend with the MIAA's leading rusher on Saturday. Blue Tigers' sophomore running back Hosea Franklin has rushed for 796 yards and averages 6.4 yards per carry with three touchdowns.

Limiting Franklin will be NSU's primary focus.

"No question about it. When you watch him from game one all the way to last week against Nebraska-Kearney, they do a great job of running the football," Eckert said. "They do a great job of systematically coming up with some diverse schemes that kinda puts you in some situations to try and stop the zone scheme and then a little bit of the gap scheme as well.

"But I think a lot of it goes back to the running back himself. When you watch you his vision, you watch his overall speed, when he gets to that second level you better hold your breath because he's got the ability to take it 80 at any point. That's got to be a key component for us to have a chance to be successful."

Defensive back Ashton Antwine tops the defense with 40 total tackles and has three tackles for losses and two interceptions.

Lane Yoder, Elijah Wallace and Eli Harvey each have one quarterback sack, Courtland Clark joins Antwine with two interceptions, and Wallace and J'Quille Washington have three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

NSU has been hit and miss on offense.

In his third consecutive start, redshirt freshman quarterback Jacob Medrano completed his first 10 passes and 24 overall against Washburn. Medrano threw for 195 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Receiver Mark Wheeland has a team-high 19 receptions and 224 yards with two touchdowns. Wheeland had seven catches for 74 yards last week.

Running back Kevin Jackson leads NSU with 254 rushing yards (3.3 average) and has a pair of touchdowns.

"We have to make sure we can adapt to the different looks from a defensive structural standpoint," Eckert said. "The four-man front is a little bit different due to some of the things you get out of it verses maybe the three-man front. We've got to make sure we continue to work on both fronts and find ways to put our players in great situations to be able to be successful and run the football. That makes life a lot easier. If you can get in front of the chains and you can face second-and-twos and second-and-threes over the opportunities of having to face second-and-nines and second-and-10s, it obviously helps you as far as getting to that third down play to have a chance to maybe convert a third-and-medium or a third-and-short."

The RiverHawks are averaging 256.7 yards of total offense, converting just 23 percent of their third downs and have been forced to punt 50 times.

Lincoln enters play after a 44-0 home loss to Nebraska-Kearney last week.

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