190911 Chris Willis

UNA head coach Chris Willis talks with his team following heir win over Western Illinois. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

Sometimes in college football, no matter how much you prepare throughout the week before a game, the results aren’t always positive on Saturday.  

That’s been the case for North Alabama and head coach Chris Willis. The Lions, despite being what Willis considers to be a focused team throughout the week, have failed to execute and keep consistent play throughout an entire game this season. The argument could be made that they did in the 41-21 win over Presbyterian, but the Blue Hose scored a late touchdown to cut into the deficit and were playing without scholarship players.

“Even though you’re in the meetings and you process it, you’re at every weight session, the little things so to speak, it doesn’t always result in a W,” Willis said. “You still gotta go out and you still gotta make plays, and you still gotta do your job.”

Once this season ends, UNA will only lose about 11 to 12 players to graduation, Willis said. With that small of a senior class, UNA qualifies as a young football team. 

And sometimes with a young team, one style of play might not work. It then becomes time to go back to the drawing board. 

“It has a lot to do with the youth of the team,” Willis said. “What we thought we were going to be able to do, we just can’t do it with some of these guys. They’re just not ready.”

The style Willis wants to make work was with a quick-strike offense that’s able to make plays and put up points quickly. The problem, according to Willis, is when those plays aren’t working, UNA loses the time of possession battle and the defense is forced to be out on the field longer. 

But then there’s times where it does work, like in the second half of the 40-34 loss to Hampton. After trailing 20-2 at the half, the Lions reeled off 32 points and the offense was clicking. 

That gives offensive coordinator Ryan Aplin reason to believe it’s not always about the experience, but more so just the execution of the game plan. 

“We’ve got to find a way to come out, execute and be consistent, and at the same time we’ve got to find a way in the second half to come out, execute and be consistent … put two halves together,” Aplin said.  

There are factors that play into execution, however. Injuries over the last several weeks have hampered the Lions. UNA went into the game with Hampton without redshirt receiver Cortez Hall, running back Ron Thompson (MCL injury) and it lost senior cornerback A.J. Bracey during the game. 

Senior running back Terence Humphrey Jr. was hit in the knee early in the first quarter and didn’t return due to his prior history with ACL injuries. 

The good news for Willis and the rest of the coaching staff is that there’s no game Saturday. 

“I’m being told that if we can have this big break that we’re fixing to have, Sunday night, when we come back and practice we should have all but maybe one or two,” Willis said.

That includes Hall, Humphrey and also redshirt offensive lineman Jacob Gentle. However, UNA will know a lot more where their team stands injury-wise this time next week. 

In order to get consistent results, however, Willis said he told the coaching staff they will rotate guys in if inconsistencies continue. That could mean freshman seeing more playing time.

For Willis, Aplin and the rest of the UNA football team, it all comes back to doing what it takes to get on the right side of the scoreboard the next game.  

“We’re just trying to figure all this out, and we’re just trying to get people in the right spot,” Willis said.

michael.hebert@timesdaily.com. or 256-740-5737. Twitter @md_hebert55

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