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There is an axiom in college football that says a team will make its biggest improvement of the season between its opening contest and the second game.

Sam Houston head coach K. C. Keeler is a believer in that truism.

“There’s no doubt,” Keeler said. “You can’t simulate a real football game in practice. There’s just no way. There’s a big difference between practice and playing in front of a live audience – especially an atmosphere like we saw last week at Eastern Washington.”

The No. 1 ranked Eagles defeated Sam Houston 56-35 in last Saturday’s FCS Kickoff matchup on ESPN. A major factor in the loss was the fact that the Bearkats with flagged 16 times for 159 yards in penalties while EWU drew one flag for 15 yards.

“With three minutes left, we’re down by only a touchdown,” Keeler said. “If we can make a stop and get the ball back we have a chance to beat the number one team in the country. We didn’t play our best and it didn’t go that way. But the players know, if we play clean at Eastern Washington, we win the game.”

Eliminating mistakes has been the focal point for the Bearkats in practice this week as the team prepares for Sam Houston’s “Orange Out 2014” opener Saturday. The Kats play host to Alabama State from the Southwestern Athletic Conference in a 6:30 p.m. game.

“I told the kids that we have a talented team but we’re not a good team yet,” Keeler said. “Our talent level matched up with Eastern Washington. But a good team doesn’t make the mistakes we made. We’re looking to improve on that aspect this week against Alabama State.”

The head coach saw several bright spots for the Bearkats in the opener.

“We all know the talent level of Keshawn Hill but, with our depth at running back, we’re going to get him more rest at times,” Keeler said. “Keshawn plays better when he’s fresh.”

Hill led Sam Houston on the ground with 17 carries for 133 yards including a 79-yard touchdown run.

Quarterback Jared Johnson led the Bearkats in the air with 317 yards on 31 completions. The sophomore also rushed for 79 yards on 10 carries including a 53-yard score.

“Jared Johnson is going to continue to grow as a quarterback,” Keeler said. “He calmed down in the pocket and threw better in the second half.”

Lachlan Edwards became a weapon on special teams with his punting, averaging 42.1 yards on eight boots. Five of the punts were fair catches. Four gave the opponents field position inside their own 20-yard line.

“Our punter did a fantastic job,” Keeler said.

Sam Houston has three more non-conference games before Southland Conference action starts. The head coach is looking for improvement in each contest.

“All in all, we have a great chance to become a pretty good football team,” Keeler said. “We will keep on getting smoother and more efficient as time goes on.”