Lincoln looks to build off last week's win

One monumental win does not a season make.

Even considering the magnitude of Lincoln’s victory against Grambling State last Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, it’s all about where the Blue Tigers go from here.

Lincoln will try to keep the momentum moving forward against Missouri Southern at 2:37 p.m. today (Mediacom Channel 22) in Joplin in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Network Game of the Week.

“It was just a good win for the program,” Lincoln head coach Mike Jones said of the Blue Tigers’ victory over Grambling, an NCAA Division I team. “How you build on it, you come back and enjoy Sunday, enjoy Monday and then you come back Tuesday and get ready for Missouri Southern.

“You have to learn how to handle some success. Last year, we had a great win on Homecoming (against Nebraska-Kearney). ... After that we didn’t play as well as we wanted to. … It’s our third game of the season, we got a good win against a good opponent, so we just have to be ready for Missouri Southern because it’s going to be a great challenge.”

Lincoln (1-1) hopes to put together its first winning streak since 2003 against a Missouri Southern squad that already owns triumphs over Northeastern State and Central Oklahoma.

Expect a heavy dosage of the ground game in this one. Lincoln and Missouri Southern rank second and third, respectively, in the MIAA in rushing yards per game. The Blue Tigers average 251 yards rushing while the Lions come in at 242 yards per contest.

Missouri Southern is especially fond of its rushing attack, racking up 109 carries compared to only 16 pass attempts in its first two games. Lincoln promotes a little more balance, having rushed 95 times and thrown 72.

“They are going to run the ball 50-plus times,” Jones said. “If we run the ball 50 times that means we’re doing pretty good, that means we’re ahead. It’s not going to be a battle of who runs the ball the best, it’s going to be who executes the best.

“Their offense is geared on running the ball. Our offense is geared on whatever you give us, we’ll take. If it means we have to throw the ball 60 times and win the football game doing that, that’s what we have to do. If it means we have to run the ball 50 times, that’s what we have to do as well.”

Missouri Southern’s attack begins and ends with sophomore quarterback Jay McDowell. He’s first on the team with 183 rushing yards and three touchdowns while going 13-of-16 for 270 yards and two scores through the air.

“Very talented young man, he runs extremely well,” Jones said of McDowell. “We just have to do a good job of containing him and not give up the big play.”

That’s especially tough against the option, a staple of the Missouri Southern offense.

“In the option, what you do is you have to contain it,” Jones said. “You have to realize that if they run the ball 50 times you’re not going to keep them under 100 yards. You have to be realistic.

“In the same sense you can’t give up the big plays. We have to be sound in our responsibilities. If you have the fullback, you have to tackle the fullback. If you have the quarterback, you have to tackle the quarterback. If you have the pitch-man, you have the pitch-man. That’s what we have to do.”

Morris Henderson is at the forefront of Lincoln’s ground attack. He ranks 30th in Division II with 118 yards per game, and is fifth in all-purpose yards at 255.5 per contest.

Almost as necessary as the run game for Lincoln is the ability to cash in when given the chance.

During Lincoln’s 21-14 loss to Missouri Southern a year ago, the Blue Tigers forced five turnovers. They weren’t able to take advantage, scoring only once following a takeaway.

“We have to make the most out of our opportunities,” Jones said. “Last year I think we had four or five opportunities in the first half where we just didn’t get the ball in the end zone on the other side of the field. We were in the plus-30, plus-25, plus-20 and we get nothing out of it. We have to get some points out of it this year.”

Should Lincoln topple Missouri Southern in Joplin, it would hand the Blue Tigers their first road win since beating Haskell in 2008. It also would mark the first MIAA victory away from home since beating Central Missouri in 1975.

“It’s going to be a great game,” Jones said. “Everybody’s going to be jacked up. It’s the same thing, it’s almost going to be like the first game. Keeping our composure, that’s the biggest thing.”

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