For six years running the Division III playoffs have been dominated by two teams, Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union. Every year the question is asked can anybody stop these two titans of Division III football? Well in our preview we decided to split it in half to give each team a fair introduction and look into their ability. Some teams could pull the upsets while others are hiding behind propped up records. Today we preview the Wisconsin-Whitewater side of the bracket, tomorrow will be Mount Union’s.
Wisconsin-Whitewater v. Albion
When Wisconsin-Whitewater has the ball…
The two-time defending National Champions will kick off their attempted seventh consecutive run to the National Title game v. Albion. You can expect UWW to rely heavily on highly heralded RB Levell Coppage. Coppage has already rumbled for 1,405 yards and 17 TD’s this season and if his past seasons are any indication, he only gets better as we get closer to the Stagg Bowl. In 13 career playoff games Coppage has run for over 100 yards 10 times and over 200 yards twice and over 300 yards once. The ability of Coppage to turn it on at exactly the right moment is rather remarkable. On the other side the onus is going to be DL CJ Carroll and LB Josh Lesinski to close up gaps and shoot holes that Coppage would use to rip off big chunks of yardage. Between the two of them they have 147 tackles on the year with 22.5 of those tackles going for loss.
When Albion has the ball…
If they are able to contain Coppage then look for Albion to attack a suspect UWW pass defense with star WR Brian Spencer. Spencer’s 58 catches, 748 yards, and six TD’s lead the team this year and he will be counted to make some big catches in this game.
In the end I can’t pick against the Warhawk dynasty, at this point they are less of a football team and more like a machine that just runs through its opponents.
Franklin v. Thomas More
When Franklin has the ball…
It’s funny when I was writing up my Division II playoff preview yesterday I was somewhat amazed at how many teams went run heavy and made the playoffs. Like any little kid who grew up wanting to be his favorite teams star QB I want to see teams air it out. Well in Franklin you have that; with the sixth ranked passing attack in the country this year, Franklin averages roughly 322.40 yards per game through the air. While he may not be on quite the same level as Houston Case Keenum, Franklin QB Johnny West will beat you all day with precision passing. He has gone 237 of 377 for 3,144 yards, 30 TD’s and 13 INT’s thus far and with big play WR Kyle Linville catching the majority of the passes there is no reason to think Franklin will suddenly abandon the air attack. However DB Zack Autareiss has been a ball hawk this year for the Thomas More secondary with 11 pass breakups and seven INT’s. West will need to be sure to identify Autareiss before launching his attack.
When Thomas More has the ball…
Thomas More is more of ball control based offense; they like to run the ball, bleed the clock and just keep picking up first downs. RB Dominique Hayden is their feature back with 756 yards and 14 TD’s. He is a strong runner who knows how to move the pile and pick up tough yardage. Franklin needs to be careful though, and not just key on Hayden and forget about QB Rob Kues. Kues has shown the ability to beat plenty of teams who jam the box. He has 18 TD passes to only two INT’s and when Thomas More utilized the play-action fakes they can be very tough to defend. The main man on the Franklin defense to watch will be LB David O’Rourke. His 11 TFL and 7.5 sacks lead the team, and he will be counted on to stop up a rushing attack that averages 206 yards per game on the ground.
This game is a bit of a tossup for me and I could see it going either way, but the little kid inside of me is screaming to pick the high octane aerial attack. So I will, and take Franklin.
Kean v. Christopher Newport
When Kean has the ball…
132, 148, 169, and 113, those are the rankings nationally for Kean in Rushing Offense, Passing Offense, Total Offense, and Scoring Offense. Despite those number (and similar ones defensively) Kean is 9-1 and in the Division III playoffs despite off the field distractions that may soon disband the athletics program. If they are going to beat Christopher Newport they are going to do it by having QB Tom Ambrisi find WR TJ Denahy down the field more than just a couple of times. Coming into this game Denahy and Ambrisi have hooked up 46 times for 683 of Ambrisi’s 1,700 yards. However they have only connected for four touchdowns. Christopher Newport will look to DB Derek Britt when it comes to stopping Denahy and Ambrisi. Britt leads Christopher Newport in interceptions this year with three and has also broken up seven other passes. His athleticism should present plenty of issues for Denahy in this game.
When Christophe Newport has the ball…
On the opposite side we look for Christopher Newport to control the clock by using RB Markese Stovall and then when the Kean defense gets drawn in we expect them to go up top and hit Rudy Rudolph deep down the field. Stovall is just 30 yards shy of hitting 1,000 for the season and Rudolph is putting up ridiculous numbers, averaging a touchdown for every three receptions and 27.6 yards per catch. While Christopher Newport has made its hay this year running the football it would make sense to attack Kean’s 132nd ranked passing defense. Also considering Kean has two very good LB’s in Bakim Bujari and Brad Higgins it would almost make more sense to attempt an aerial assault. Bujari and Higgins have been excellent this season at getting behind the line of scrimmage and making plays with 16 combined TFL’s.
While I love a good underdog pick I cannot go with Kean here. It’s not that I think Christopher Newport is that much better either, just that I think Kean got here thanks to winning the NJAC and as I look around that conference I’m not sure they were tested all that much.
Salisbury v. Western New England
When Salisbury has the ball…
I love triple option football. I know many pundits and analysts find it to be boring and lethargic but there is nothing better than when the triple option is run crisply and to perfection. It’s a deadly offense that wears down defenses and then just as the defense gets tired they hit them for a big play. Salisbury is one of a few teams that run the triple option and they do it to the tune of 342.50 yards per game. Their two main RB’s are Randal Smedley and Ross Flanigan, and they have combined with QB Dan Griffin to rack up 1,926 yards on the ground along with 33 TD’s. They also have the wrinkle that Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech wishes he had with a QB who can hit passes. Griffin is 33 of 42 on the season for 1,073 yards, 13 TD’s, and no INT’s. Defensively stopping the option is going to start and end with DL James Georges for Western New England. Georges has 40 tackles and 16.5 TFL this year but will need to play most disciplined game of his life in order to have any shot of stopping Salisbury’s offense.
When Western New England has the ball…
Western New England has its own dual-threat QB in Bryce Brown. Brown has carried the ball 176 times this year for 826 yards and 13 TD’s all while throwing the ball 176 times with 90 completions equaling out to 1,275 yards, 11 TD’s, and 4 INT’s. Brown will need to keep a watchful eye on this Salisbury defense though. They may not have a defensive lineman the same caliber as Georges, but they do have a LB who loves to hit people in Jamey McClendon. I expect Salisbury to basically tell McClendon to spy Brown all game long. His 72 tackles and 8.5 TFL show you just how good of a tackler he is and if McClendon can force Brown to try and beat Salisbury with his arm then that’s the kind of game Salisbury wants.
I like the triple option and I like Salisbury in this game to run all over the field, control the clock, and get the big win.
St. Thomas v. St. Scholastica
When St. Thomas has the ball…
In a first round battle of the unbeaten I’m reminded of my younger days when I watched Sesame Street and for the longest time my favorite song was ‘one of these things is not like the other.' I feel like that song applies to this game as both teams may come in undefeated but I don’t think they are on the same level. Expect St. Thomas to try and establish the run early in an effort to loosen up the passing game for QB Dakota Tracy (favorite name of any playoff QB). They’ll use both Tracy and RB Colin Tobin to try and gash the St. Scholastica defense for big chunks early on. I expect Tobin to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark on the season during this game, he’s only 21 yards shy of it. Defensively look for St. Scholastica to try and force the issue with DL Zack Dubanoski. His 14.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks will be used to try and harass both Tobin and Tracy and hopefully force St. Thomas to pass which is where St. Scholastica thinks they can force a mistake. Just to note DB Sean Gaskey is absolute hitting machine ou
t there and has already forced 6 FF’s this year, if he gets a shot he’s going to take it.
When St. Scholastica has the ball…
On the other side of the ball St. Scholastica offers a balanced attack that features a dual headed RB monster in Jake Jensen and Travis Nehowig that has rumbled for 1,408 yards and 17 TD’s this season to go along with a ridiculously efficient passing attack. QB Alex Thirty has put up some incredible numbers this year that include a 73.3% completion percentage, over 2,500 yards on only 151 completions, and 37 TD’s to one INT. Numbers like that blow almost every other QB at this level out of the water but the question is can he do it against a top level defensive squad like St. Thomas? Coming from the UMAC St. Scholastica hasn’t seen a defense quite like the one St. Thomas will be bringing. They feature a LB in Tony Danna who will make a run at being first team All-Region and will make plays all over the field on Saturday.
This St. Thomas team is bigger, stronger, faster, and more physical across the board than any other team St. Scholastica has seen all year. They may be undefeated coming in on Saturday but I have to think they are going to leave with their first and last loss of the season.
Illinois Wesleyan v. Monmouth:
When Illinois Wesleyan has the ball…
Illinois Wesleyan is one of your traditional old school style football teams, they win the game by playing strong defense and putting their offense in a position to score easily. They pride themselves on how hard their defense works. That’s not to say they don’t have offensive weapons because they have two very good WR’s that present any team that isn’t deep in the defensive backfield trouble. WR Joey Driver and Jake Musselman have combined for 62 catches for 905 yards and 12 TD’s. Passing defense also just happens to be the place where Monmouth struggles the most. They don’t have the CB’s to cover all day so they have to rely on pressure from their front seven to force bad throws or get sacks. That pressure hasn’t always been there but when it has it’s usually been LB Preston Lunzy applying it. He has 61 tackles, 14 TFL, and 8 sacks on the year and he will need to bring plenty of heat on Saturday.
When Monmouth has the ball…
Remember before where I said Illinois Wesleyan was a team built on defense? Well they haven’t seen anything like the offense Monmouth runs. I had the privilege of talking to star QB Alex Tanney and Head Coach Steve Bell about their offense two years ago and this frantic paced no-huddle spread system is run at a break neck speed with the intent to wear out defenses. Also as we found out last year that nobody-and I mean nobody- runs this offense the way Tanney does. He’s like a maestro on the field taking in the play-call, getting his teammates set, and reading defense all with over 15 seconds left on the play clock traditionally. This year however they have an added wrinkle in terms of a running game to account for. RB Trey Yokum has been a nightmare to defensive coordinators who struggled to try and just stop Tanney. His 1,300+ yards show just how deadly he’s been alongside Tanney.
Speaking of Tanney he’s once again among the nation’s leaders in passing with 3,304 yards 35 TD’s, with just seven INT’s. DL Ryan Jenkins is going to be the key for the Illinois Wesleyan defense. Not only will he be asked to get pressure on Tanney throughout the game, but he’ll also be asked to get off blocks and make plays on Yokum in the backfield.
In the end I think the Scots will get that rather elusive playoff victory that escaped them two years ago. They have a balanced attack to show teams this year and anybody overlooking them could be in for a shock if they get into the quarter or semi-finals.
Johns Hopkins v. St. John Fisher:
When Johns Hopkins has the ball…
Johns Hopkins is traditionally known for being one of the most prestigious academic universities in the country as well as having one of most dominant lacrosse teams in the country. However this time it’s their football team making some noise, thanks to a passing attack that averages 319 yards per game and is engineered by QB Hewitt Tomlin. Tomlin has thrown 282 passes this season with 194 of them getting caught. He has nearly 3,000 yards on the year and a 23:5 TD:INT ratio. Johns Hopkins features three very dangerous WR’s in David Wodicka, Sam Wernick, and Scott Cremens. Together these three have compiled 195 receptions for 2,447 yards, and 23 TD’s. Cremens has been especially dangerous this season averaging over 13 yards per catch. St. John Fisher though has a couple very capable DB’s who it will call on to try and slow down the Hopkins aerial attack. DB Troy Sant is among the nation’s leaders in INT’s with seven, he has smooth hips, and plenty of athleticism to stick with a team’s number one WR option. Mea
nwhile, fellow defensive back Dave Vosbargh makes an attempt to tackle everything that moves. Vosbargh will be seen all over the field making plays and trying to dislodge the ball.
When St. John Fisher has the ball…
Offensively St. John Fisher will need to try and slow the game down and give its defense a chance to catch its breath. With how quickly the Hopkins team can score no lead can be considered safe. Look for St. John Fisher to run a lot with QB Ryan Kramer. He has been effective this year picking up large chunks of yardage on the ground and is able to keep defenses honest because he has the ability to beat you through the air. RB Cody Miller will also get the call to pick up tough yards and keep the chains moving. He may not quite get the same amount of glory that Kramer gets but he is just as vital to their rushing attack. Look for Hopkins to release the dogs of war on St. John Fisher in the form of LB’s Taylor Maciow and Kyle Sweeney. Both LB’s will be asked to shut down the St. John Fisher attack and given the fact that this defense only allows an average of 97.20 yards per game I wouldn’t say that it’s out of the question for them to do it.
I’ll take the Blue Jays and their high powered offense in this one. While I don’t think it’s a bad matchup for St. John Fisher, I just don’t think they are as talented or deep on defense as Hopkins is on offense. Tomlin should have time to throw and as good as St. John Fisher’s DB’s are they can’t cover for forever.
Delaware Valley v. Norwich:
When Delaware Valley has the ball…
Delaware Valley comes in with a perfect record and a very balance offensive attack. They average nearly 200 yards both rushing and passing per game (193 rushing, 235 passing) and can score in bunches. Their efforts are led by two playmakers at the skill positions as RB Kyle Schuberth leads the ground attack and WR Lewis Vincent is the big play guy. Schuberth has done a phenomenal job this year of running the ball for Delaware Valley he is almost assured to go over 1,000 yards on the season this Saturday and has already set a career high in rushing TD’s on the year with 12. Vincent on the other hand isn’t considered Delaware Valley’s number one WR option but he is their big play threat. Vincent averages over 23 yards per catch and his seven TD’s lead all receivers on his team in that category. The issue for Norwich is that they really don’t have the playmaker in the defensive backfield to match-up with Vincent but they may have a LB who can help neutralize Schuberth. That LB is Jimmy LeBell, LeBell leads Norwi
ch in both tackles (66) and tackles for loss (14). He has great instincts for a LB and will need to be all over the field.
When Norwich has the ball…
Norwich like many of the other teams in this preview is a run dominant team. They rely on the QB and RB to pick up the majority of their yards on the ground and if that doesn’t work than they don’t have an alternative. QB Kris Sabourin has rushed for over 1,000 yards on the season has nine TD’s while RB Andrew Fulford is just 89 yard short of joining him in the 1,000 yard club. Fulford has scored 10 of his TD’s and will likely be given an even heavier load on Saturday given how well Delaware Valley plays the run. They will use DL Mike Jaskowski to get after the ball carrier from his DL position and attempt to redirect runs and disrupt plays. What he can’t finish LB Ken Fowlkes will, Fowlkes is your classic read and react LB who loves to fill gaps and make plays. The key here is that if Delaware Valley can stall Norwich and get up early it could be all over. Sabourin has only four touchdowns to nine interceptions this year so throwing the ball is not much of an option.
I’ll take Delaware Valley and I think they take it easily, they are too balanced on both sides of the ball to be bothered much by Norwich and I think they are going to make a long run into these playoffs.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part II of the Division III Playoff Preview!!
Matthew C. Elder will be covering the Division II and Division III Playoffs for Crystal Ball Run all postseason long.
Follow him on Twitter @MatthewCElder.
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