The Lincoln Blue Tigers are wanting to break a trend.
Opponents have found a way to pile up the points this season against Lincoln, which is allowing 66.5 points per game, the worst in Division II. Today's Homecoming opponent, Missouri Southern, enters the game averaging just 13.6 points per game.
The Blue Tigers prefer to keep the points allowed much closer to that total.
"They're in low-scoring games because of them, that's the way they want to play it," Lincoln coach Malik Hoskins said ahead of today's 2 p.m. kickoff at Dwight T. Reed Stadium.
"They're a bend-but-don't-break style of defense. Coach Atiba Bradley is a defensive guy, and all he asks of his offense is to not put the defense in a bad situation. When you get teams like that, it's going to be a low-scoring game."
Bradley, who was hired by his alma mater in February, has guided the Lions to a 1-4 start this season. Their win came Sept. 18, a 14-10 decision at Central Oklahoma.
"Coach Atiba is doing a really good job," Hoskins said. "He came in and overhauled the roster from what they previously had in 2019."
Lincoln played last Saturday at Central Oklahoma, falling 69-28.
"On the positive side, offensively, we were able to move the ball," Hoskins said. "The young group on that side of the ball seems to be maturing with each rep that they take, each game that we go through.
"On the negative side, defensively, we seem to be out of sorts, not sure of where we're supposed to be."
Four of Missouri Southern's five games have had both teams combine to score less than 40 points, including last Saturday's 20-16 home loss against Pittsburg State.
The Lions' offense, which averages 287.6 yards per game, is led by redshirt freshman quarterback Dawson Herl (6-foot-4, 194 pounds), who is 79-of-126 pass from 797 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
"Don't expect for him to make mistakes," Hoskins said. "If it's not there, he's going to tuck it and run it, or he's going to throw it away. They're doing a good job of putting him in situations where he's not uncomfortable. He has simple reads, and he does a good job of making those reads."
Missouri Southern's offense has turned the ball over just two times in five games.
"Teams get frustrated against them, from what we've seen," Hoskins said. "And they get out of character. That's when you play into their hands. We have to be more aggressive, and we have to try to make them make mistakes."
The Lions' running game will be led by freshman running back Nathan Glades (5-10, 184), who has 82 carries for 385 yards and three touchdowns. He has accounted for 49 percent of Missouri Southern's rushing attempts, but no other ball-carrier has accumulated more than 65 yards on the ground this season.
"He fits their system best, and that's the guy they've been riding with," Hoskins said. "They'll play about three or four guys at the running back position, but he's going to get a bulk of the carries. That's where our focus will be."
The Lions will start eight underclassmen on offense. The other player with plenty of experience, however, is senior wide receiver Brian Boyd Jr. (6-2, 172), who has 19 catches for 239 yards and two touchdowns.
"He is their big-play guy," Hoskins said. "Most of the things they've gotten from the passing game has come from Brian, so we have to do a good job of making sure we know where he is every play."
The other projected upperclassman starters for Missouri Southern's offense are senior center Labrentae Davis (6-3, 311) and senior tight end Keandre Bledsoe (6-3, 251).
Defensively, the Lions are allowing just 26.2 points per game, holding opponents to 21 or fewer points in three of their contests. They have shown a 4-3 defensive front this season.
"They're kind of a carbon copy of us," said Hoskins, who noted Lincoln defensive coordinator Casey Carlo, who was previously a defensive assistant at Missouri Southern. "He knows coach Atiba, they come from the same coaching tree. We expect to see some of the things that we saw early in camp from coach Carlo in camp with our defense."
Junior linebacker Richard Jordan Jr. (5-11, 205) leads the Lions with 50 tackles, including seven for loss, to go with two forced fumbles, two quarterback hits and one sack.
Jordan had 16 tackles last weekend against Pittsburg State.
"He's probably their best football player," Hoskins said. "He's so savvy, and you can tell just by looking at the film that his football IQ is very high. That's going to put him in the right situations."
Sophomore defensive back Dylan Bolden (6-1, 170) has just eight tackles this season, but his four interceptions alone put the Lions in the positive on turnover margin this season.
"With the coverages they run, if you're disciplined and you're where you supposed to be, you're going to get those interceptions," Hoskins said. "They have done a really good job of getting those kids to buy in to what they're selling."
On defensive line, redshirt freshman Nick Kruse (6-2, 246) and sophomore Solomona Fetuao (6-3, 265) each have three tackles for loss and one sack.
"Solomona is big and strong, he's going to require a double-team," Hoskins said.
Hoskins said he changed things up a bit this week, opting for a 5:30 a.m. practice Tuesday rather than taking the field in the afternoon.
"It was just to try and break the monotony," he said. "It was a really spirited practice, for a 5:30 a.m. practice."
Lincoln's offense has taken positive strides in its past two losses. After totaling just 12 points in the first two games, the Blue Tigers have responded with 48 and 28 points, taking their scoring average up to 22 points per game.
"They're a really good, sound football team," Hoskins said. "They're not going to beat themselves, so we've got to play really smart."
Notes: Missouri Southern leads the all-time series 9-2 against Lincoln. The Blue Tigers lost 38-14 in 2019 at home to the Lions, and have not won in the series since 1970. Lincoln running back Hosea Franklin had his second straight 100-yard rushing performance last Saturday, finishing with 19 carries for 137 yards. He now ranks fifth in the MIAA in rushing yards per game with 69.8. On the injury front, Hoskins said "everybody seems to be healthy right now" in the starting positions. Backup linebacker Cameron Hawkins is dealing with a knee injury, backup defensive back Julian Pickens has a broken nose — but will be able to play with a mask — and backup cornerback Chris Parker is also battling an injury.