A lot of teams want to establish a rushing attack early in games. That's no different for Jefferson City.
But in the Jays' case, how effective they are on the ground has had a direct impact on the outcome of each game this season.
"If we have trouble establishing the run we're probably going to be playing left-handed and it gets pretty ugly," Jefferson City coach Scott Bailey said after last week's 36-0 win against Capital City.
In Jefferson City's three defeats, the Jays averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
In the past two weeks, Jefferson City has averaged 6.4 yards per rush while outscoring opponents a combined 63-6.
Tonight, Jefferson City will take on a Hickman Kewpies team that allowed about that average against the other two football teams in town. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Columbia.
Hickman began the season with home losses to Francis Howell (63-21) and Helias (68-18), but has defeated Capital City (52-27) and Sedalia Smith-Cotton (26-16) on the road.
Hickman had its Week 5 game against Battle canceled because of COVID-19.
"First thing you notice is they've got some dudes up front with some size," Bailey said of the Kewpie defense. "Then they're athletic. Anytime you're facing somebody that runs real well, plays that you think open at the point of attack can close up pretty quick because of speed."
The Jays are coming off their best rushing performance of the season with 287 yards on 39 attempts, led by running back David Bethune's 182 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries.
Out of the seven rushing scores for Bethune this season, four have been on runs of more than 40 yards.
"If your Level 2 and Level 3 blockers get themselves into position," Bailey said, " with the speed that we have, with the guys we have that run well, we can get that 5-yard gain to a 50-yard gain."
Jefferson City will match up against a Hickman defense that's used three-man and four-man fronts this season.
"Most defenses at this level don't really play alignment defense, they play assignment defense," Bailey said. "Where they're standing when the ball is snapped sometimes is irrelevant to what their assignment is."
Taking the snaps for the Kewpies is junior quarterack TJ Turner, who's thrown for 357 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
A variety of players have carried the ball for the Kewpies this season.
LJ Williams, a junior, led Hickman with 141 yards on five carries, including an 89-yard touchdown, last week at Smith-Cotton.
Against Capital City, junior Keshawn Collins and freshman Darian Kemp ran for 155 and 147 yards, respectively, on a combined 20 carries.
"Athletes in space create anxiety for everybody," Bailey said. "You get a good athlete in space and miss a tackle or whatever, it can be trouble. You've got to be able to contain them. Don't let them take over a game. Make them work for what they're getting."
Notes: The Jays and Kewpies have met on the football field 116 times, with the Jays holding a 59-53-4 edge in the all-time series. Jefferson City has won the past eight games against Hickman, limiting the Kewpies to fewer than 10 points five times. ... Jefferson City and Hickman are tied for third place in the Central Missouri Activites Conference at 2-1. Helias leads the conference at 3-0, Rock Bridge is second at 3-1, Battle is fifth at 1-1, Smith-Cotton is sixth at 0-3 and Capital City is seventh at 0-4. After tonight, the Jays will still have Helias and Battle left on the conference schedule, both games at Adkins Stadium.