(Surely to be a popular topic this week after we all watch that Trinity-Millsaps clip 20 times)
So folks have been very curious to hear what Pat and I think about No. 3 UW-Whitewater’s 41-14 win against visiting No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor today. And that’s understandable, since we tend to be the guys to come to with Division III football questions.
Problem, Pat and I have discussed it a bit amongst ourselves, and we’re aren’t sure yet what to make of it. UMHB turned it over five times to UW-W’s zero. After the Warhawks’ scored on their opening drive, Andy Murray intercepted Crusaders QB Josh Welch and returned it to the 9 to set up a TD and Matt Blaziewske picked off another pass a ran it back 60 yards to make it 21-0 less than 12 minutes into the game. From there it was an even game until Tristan Borzick returned another interception 60 yards for the game’s final points.
Certainly some credit goes to the Warhawks, especially a defense that generated two TDs and set up another. But it’s also not unreasonable to wonder whether that was UMHB’s best effort, five turnovers and 13 penalties.
So what does it mean?
Here are a few working theories. I’ll open the floor afterward for discussion as we all attempt to make some sense out of it.
1. UW-Whitewater is just that good.
Maybe. But that seems a little too easy, doesn’t it? I doubt it’s that simple.
2. UW-Whitewater, under a new coach and with a new quarterback, is finally coming together.
The list of players the Warhawks lost was only made longer when coaches were considered. Longtime leader Bob Berezowitz hung ‘em up, and offensive coordinator Stan Zwiefel moved on. The losses were a big preseason topic, because even given the talent Whitewater was bringing back, it takes time to jell. So we can stop mentioning the old coaches and last year’s players. These guys have earned their own identity with the comeback against La Crosse and Saturday’s win. The loss to Division II St. Cloud State is old news; The Warhawks are a much better team now.
3. Perkins Stadium is a tough place to play.
Regular season or playoffs, highly-ranked teams have met unkind fates at Whitewater: Wesley, St. John’s, Central, UW-LaCrosse and UMHB have all been blown out at The Perk in the past two-plus seasons (although SJU and UW-L have also played close games there in the ’06 playoffs). Who knows if the grass field (which hardly anyone seems to play on anymore) or the cannon or the overall atmosphere are factors.
4. The West Region is way better than the South Region
UMHB and Wesley played in last year’s regional final. Neither fared well in Whitewater. Is Whitewater, or less specifically, the WIAC, just a completely different level in terms of line play, etc. Huntingdon’s Mike Turk said about as much after his team, from the South Region, lost 34-3 to UW-Oskosh earlier this season.
5. Road trips of 1,000 miles or longer can have a great effect on teams.
I’m more of a ‘once you get between the white lines, nothing else is a factor’ kind of guy. But there could be an argument here. Certainly last year in Texas, a Whitewater team with probably a more talented cast eked out a win against a UMHB team with practically the same cast, sans free safety Josh Kubiak.
6. UMHB dug itself too big a hole with the first-half turnovers; The score was not indicative of how even the teams are.
One could say that UMHB is not built to pass, since they’re such a run-based offense. Maybe they felt they had to today to move the ball on UW-W. Maybe they just got away from what they do, got behind, and worse yet, couldn’t stick to running the ball to get back into the game. Although that’s precisely what remains so amazing about UMHB’s fourth-quarter comeback in ’04 at Mount Union. They never deviated from what they did in that game.
I’m sure there are other theories, and people can certainly combine more than one of the above.
Also worth discussing: UW-W is probably the consensus No. 2 in the nation in all polls now. Where does UMHB deserve to drop to?
And if UW-W couldn’t beat Mount Union the past two years in the Stagg Bowl, what makes No. 2 or any team ranked lower think they could possibly win this year?
Have at it.