Being shut out by Kirkwood at home in Week 1 is starting to become a distant memory for the Jefferson City Jays.
A grind-out victory against Hannibal and a fairly convincing win against Hickman later, Jefferson City (2-1) is after its first three-game winning streak since beginning the 2016 season 3-0.
"The first week we had five or six guys doing their job and four or five guys not," coach Terry Walker said as the Jays get set to face St. Louis University High tonight on the road. "Then the second week we had three or four guys not doing their job and then the third week we get eight or nine on each play doing their job and then you get a couple guys that aren't, you're going to miss-execute on some plays.
"We're improving and we need to continue to improve. I thought there were opportunities where we really could have attacked (Hickman) physically and really tried to impose our will on them and that's just an attitude more than anything else."
Walker is referring to last week's 19-7 victory against the Kewpies. The Jays were up 19-0 early in the second half but punted four times, including three three-and-outs, the rest of the way.
The ground game sputtered and throwing it wasn't much of an option in the rain.Maleek Jackson still surpassed 200 rushing yards and the opportunity is there to keep that going during tonight's game, which will kick off at 7 p.m. in St. Louis.
"We'd like to build off the running game, but each week you've got to take what the defense is giving you," Walker said. "Against Hickman, the weather conditions and what their defense was doing was giving us some opportunities to run the football and we really tried to focus hard on controlling the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively and that will continue to be a focus area."
The Junior Bills will bring size to the line of scrimmage battle, especially on offense. SLUH could have at least three offensive linemen that are listed at least 270 pounds starting tonight.
"Size is only relevant if a guy knows how to use it," Walker said. "Obviously if you play your technique and are fundamentally sound — just because a guy is bigger than you it doesn't mean he's going to whip you up and down the field. If that was the case there would be no reason to play games. They are going to be a bigger line and our kids need to anticipate that and meet their size with healthy resistance."
SLUH's line will be trying to protect either Brendan Hannah or Milo Wilson, who didn't play in last week's 35-7 loss to De Smet because of an injury. That loss dropped the Junior Bills to 0-3 on the season.
Hannah has completed 7-of-16 passes for 63 yards with an interception while Wilson has completed 18-of-51 passes for 233 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions.
"(Hannah) looked like he ran the football a little bit better and actually threw the football fairly well," Walker said. "They've got a very capable backup and we've got to be postured to play against whoever shows up at the quarterback position."
Hannah has gained 43 yards on nine rushing attempts, but it will be running back Kellen Porter who the Jays will have to watch out for even more.
Porter leads the Junior Bills with 352 yards and three scores with an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He's also the team's second-leading receiver with five receptions.
"Eleven hats to the football," Walker said of how to stop Porter. "Great team pursuit. Being confident and conscious of how they are trying to attack us with their offense and then do our very best to take what they want to do away and then anticipate what they are going to try to do next."
SLUH also has a big-play threat in the passing game with receiver Nick Lang, who has seven catches for 165 yards and a pair of scores this season.
Other than trying to limit big plays, creating more turnovers is what Walker would like to see out of the Jays, who have interception one pass and recovered one fumble this season.
"It's just got to be more of a focus area," Walker said. "Normally we coach them the first guy secures the tackle, the second guy in attacks the football, so that's become more of an emphasis area. Our tackling has been below average to this point, so we have really been emphasizing the tackling aspect of it. We've got to get to the point where we're emphasizing the tackling and the turnover aspect and we'll make improvements there."
Getting takeaways hasn't been needed so far to get in the win column. Jefferson City has only given the ball away twice via fumble or interception.
Jays quarterback Devin Roberson threw his lone interception in Week 2 against Hannibal. It also happened to be his most effective performance of the season, recording season highs in passing yards (203) and touchdown passes (2).
"We need to be more consistent in our passing game," Walker said. "We need to be more accurate and more precise in executing our shorter throws."
To help out the passing game, the Jays hope to keep the defensive front from getting to Roberson, something that's been a issue at times this season.
"We've been seeing a lot of stunts lately because we've struggled with protection," Walker said. "We're going to continue to see that until we show teams that we can handle it consistently. That's what we anticipate from them."