BELTON — With a 2-0 record that includes a conference-opening win, No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor had a productive first two weeks of the season that many programs would be celebrating.
Just about the only things the Crusaders celebrate are national championships, though, and they believe their performance in last Saturday’s 34-14 win over East Texas Baptist won’t be good enough come mid-December.
“We didn’t perform at a fever pitch like we have to. For whatever reason, I don’t know,” UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday as his staff prepared for the Crusaders’ next American Southwest Conference game Saturday night at Southwestern (1-1, 1-0 ASC). “Our football team has to get better. Our coaches have to get better, and we have to do a better job of preparing and putting some expectations on guys to perform at a higher level.
“I think it was a wake-up call. It’s good when you can have that and win, but it was a wake-up call.”
UMHB’s offense had 353 yards against ETBU, a somewhat modest number by the Crusaders’ standards. UMHB was hampered by two second-half fumbles, and the Crusaders attempted only two passes in the final 25 minutes after building a 31-0 lead.
Looking back, Fredenburg wishes his team would have kept its foot on the throttle.
“I think we need to utilize our receiving corps a little more,” he said. “We like to say we take what the defense gives us, but we got a little conservative in the latter part of the game because we didn’t want to make a mistake with the lead. It’s good that coaches worry about winning the game instead of about stats, but we need to open up our offense and attack a defense.
“The thing that’s really important this week is that we take care of us. We need to get better as a football team. The win over East Texas Baptist was significant and we’re proud we won the ballgame, but the reality is that our guys expect to and will play a lot better than they did Saturday.”
Southwestern bounced back from a 37-7, season-opening loss to Cal Lutheran with a 34-27 win over Belhaven last week.
The Pirates, who’ve already announced that this will be their last season in the ASC, go as quarterback Landry Gilpin goes. The 6-foot, 170-pound junior was 19-of-31 passing for 155 yards and two touchdowns last week, when he also ran for a game-high 112 yards and a TD on 19 carries.
“They spread the field and give (Gilpin) a lot of options. He’s a gifted athlete that can throw and run, and they do a great job of utilizing a quarterback with those abilities,” Fredenburg said. “It will be a difficult task for us to put together a game plan to contain him, but we’re sure going to try.”
KJ is back
UMHB wide receiver and return man KJ Miller will be back this week after sitting out the first two games because of a violation of team rules.
He and fellow senior Aaron Sims are interchangeable in the slot — Miller is 5-7, 170 and Sims is 5-5, 140 — but Fredenburg likes to get as many of his playmakers as possible on the field.
“I’d like to get both of them on the field at the same time,” he said. “Aaron has to do some things that only he can do because of his speed.”
The toughest decision could be picking who returns punts and kickoffs. Miller and Sims formed a dangerous special teams duo on UMHB’s national championship team in 2018, but senior free safety Jefferson Fritz — with a punt return for a touchdown against ETBU — also has turned into a formidable threat in the return game.
“We have a real dilemma with Aaron Sims, KJ Miller and Jefferson Fritz about who will be the return guy because we have some really outstanding guys who can make a team pay for punting or kicking it to them. It’s a real asset for us,” Fredenburg said.
Sophomore backup linebacker Jackson Sennie, who had an interception in the season opener, injured his right elbow in the first half against ETBU and did not return.
His status going forward is unknown, but he is expected to miss at least three weeks.
“There’s a question about the damage, about whether it needs surgery or whether it can just heal. They’re running some tests to see,” Fredenburg said. “Obviously, it’s an injury of significance, and he’ll be out for a while. He thinks he can come back in a few weeks, and we hope he can.”