Triple Take: Playing for Salem

Three of this weekend’s contenders are on familiar ground, while the third, St. Thomas, has been building to this point over the past three seasons. Adding a dimension of excitement to the St. Thomas/UW-Whitewater matchup is seeing Gagliardi Trophy finalists Fritz Waldvogel and Matt Blanchard lead the offensive charge for their respective teams.

You’ve been following through the first three rounds; you’ve heard the breakdowns of last week and more in the Around the Nation Podcast; and you’ve probably perused the Post Patterns message board for extra bits of insight.

Today’s Triple Take brings all the pieces together with score predictions and analysis of both of the national semifinal games. The winners of these games get to travel to Salem, Division III’s Tinseltown, for the 39th Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.

On Saturday, there’ll be a live blog running here on The Daily Dose, and all tweets with hashtag #d3fb are included. Take a look at our playoffs home page for our Road to Salem feature stories and more!

Ryan’s take: UW-Whitewater 34, St. Thomas 20
The Warhawks have been dismantling quality teams from Day 1 of the 2011 season. And when a team like the Tommies has one receiver who accounts for three times more receiving yards than other individual on the team, Whitewater will know who to zero in on. Talented defensive backs will be disruptive, and a vicious UW-W front line will get pressure on any quarterback it comes across. And there’s not a running game around that can get through the linebackers led by Greg Arnold and Ryan Cortez (just ask Salisbury). St. Thomas definitely has a couple of stunning skill players, but Whitewater hasn’t gotten to where they are over the past seven seasons without being able to neutralize those skills. The Tommies will need a bit of razzle-dazzle to win; simple strength won’t be enough. I’m not sure that they have it. The Warhawks are tested, and players on the both sides of the ball complement one another. Sure, Warhawk quarterback Matt Blanchard and rusher Levell Coppage are great skill players, but it’s the supporting cast that will make sure this game falls in favor of Whitewater.
Keith’s take: UW-Whitewater 24, St. Thomas 17
So remember last week when I pointed out how UW-Whitewater always plays a close quarterfinal or semifinal, and wrote Salisbury would be that game? Wrong. But I implore you to believe me this week (or don’t): THIS is that game. In all seriousness, there isn’t a program that’s more ready for this challenge than St. Thomas. The Tommies are very much built in the Warhawks’ likeness: Smother the opposing run game (1.56 yards per carry; UW-W allows 2.73; the national average in D-III this season was 3.99), be physical on offense as well, and take care of the ball. I requested game video from both schools this week so I could make a detailed and informed pick. With both teams so dependent on establishing the run (Colin Tobin, 605 yards, 7TDs in playoffs and UW-W’s Levell Coppage, 514 and 10) the only way I felt I could get a feel for if either would be successful was to re-watch both games. Unfortunately only St. Thomas came through. So my insight isn’t what it could be, but there’s this: St. Thomas can win. They’re versatile enough on offense to score and they pursue well on defense, meaning long runs will be hard to come by for the Warhawks. But whenever the going gets tough for UW-Whitewater, they can buckle down and move the ball by handing it to Levell Coppage. And the Tommies, their gaudy rush defense numbers aside, don’t look to the naked eye to be rugged enough to consistently stand up to the Warhawks’ pounding. They’ll need some turnovers and big plays to sway the game, because the Warhawks aren’t flashy, they’re just better than everyone that lines up against them.
Pat’s take: UW-Whitewater 28, St. Thomas 25
I’ve been asked many times in the past couple of weeks if I thought St. Thomas could beat UW-Whitewater. I think they could, but I’d feel more secure in that if they had won their quarterfinal last year and gone on to play Mount Union. I think most teams playing one of the Powers for the first time feel just a little bit of intimidation, but even if not, the adjustment period is noticeable. (Yes, Mary Hardin-Baylor 2004, I see you back there.) St. Thomas has started a bit slow each of the past two weeks, heck, the past three weeks if you think the Tommies shouldn’t have had to punt three times in their first four possessions against St. Scholastica. A slow start against UW-Whitewater could mean a 21-0 deficit. The tough run defense will face the biggest challenge in Division III football. Not many have contained Levell Coppage.

Ryan’s take: Wesley 28, Mount Union 24
I’ve been in this spot before, willing to channel my faith in Wesley into a national semifinal prediction. The Wolverines have emerged from the most loaded bracket of the bunch and have taken down some of the nation’s top polled teams in Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor. And they did it in distinctly different ways, playing to the pressure of the moment and coming up big when it was needed. Wesley signal-caller Shane McSweeny is as great a runner as he is a passer, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares against one of the most statistically stingy run defenses in the country. And Mount’s pass defense benefits from the likes of Nick Driskill, probably the nation’s scariest guy to throw the ball near. Those defensive elements from Mount take away a lot of Wesley’s strength. However, Mount today isn’t the Mount of last year; or of the year before when Cecil Shorts turned a tight matchup against Wesley into a rout. The question that has to be asked is: Is Wesley capable of taking itself to the championship level? They’ve been so close so often since 2005. This is their moment. It won’t be easy, but nothing has been for them this postseason. I’m colorblind, so I probably won’t be able to tell the difference, but the Stagg Bowl will be purple and navy this year.
Keith’s take: Mount Union 20, Wesley 17
I requested and was promised video from both schools here too, but the DVDs never arrived. Because I’m located so close to Dover, I’ve seen Wesley twice this season, and because I didn’t have DirecTV and Sports Time Ohio, I’ve seen less Mount Union than usual. I wanted to be careful not to pick Wesley just because I know more about them. There are two variables here that could greatly sway the outcome: Which QB takes snaps for Mount Union, and which personality Wesley takes on. Neal Seaman, Matt Piloto and freshman Kevin Burke all played for the Purple Raiders last week, and it’s hard to speculate which one they’d be best off with against Wesley. Meanwhile, Wolverines QB Shane McSweeny — the nation’s fourth-most efficient passer and one of its most versatile quarterbacks — has taken care of the ball all season, never throwing more than one interception in a game. He’s thrown 13 TD passes and two interceptions in three playoff wins, against by far the best competition any of the semifinalists have played. That’s key, because the Purple Raiders are famously successful when winning the turnover battle — 162-1 since 1990, with the loss coming in the 1995 playoffs. So we’ve got two major themes: How Charles Dieseul, Nick Driskill and a smothering defense deals with the multiple threats of McSweeny, the big body of tight end Sean McAndrew and the speed of Wesley’s Steven Koudoussou and Matt Barile. And then how Wesley’s defense — equally adept at smothering teams — functions against Mount Union’s not-as-dynamic-as-usual offense. The Wolverines played great halves against Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor; they’ll need to play four great quarters to slow RB Jeremy Murray and the Purple Raiders’ offense. Are the poor tackling, penalty-prone Wolverines going to show up in Alliance, or are the sharp, multitalented, inspired-by-Ben Knapp Wolverines going to be there? I could honestly see a St. Thomas-Wesley Stagg Bowl, and it would be refreshing for D-III to shake things up a little. But I’ve learned my lesson being wrong over the years. In a game in Alliance, the safe pick is the Purple Raiders.
Pat’s take: Mount Union 16, Wesley 13
I still like Mount Union’s chances of winning with defense, even if they are indeed down to their third-string quarterback. The defense should play well enough, especially the front six, to keep Wesley’s offense in check. I agree this is Wesley’s best chance, but I am not sure that is enough here. Keeping Shane McSweeny contained is the key to stopping the Wesley offense, granted, but I think it’s also time to give the Purple Raiders special teams some shine as well. If Hobart and Kean can put Wesley in bad spots with special teams plays, couldn’t Mount Union also? Enough offense will come. Mount Union can’t score like Linfield or Mary Hardin-Baylor, but won’t need to either.

31 thoughts on “Triple Take: Playing for Salem

  1. I like Ryan’s take on the Wesley match up but….

    Pat’s reference to Hobart & Kean is the deal breaker Wesley should have put them away faster

  2. Keith, Ryan or Pat:

    Have we gotten any news from Alliance as to who will be doing the quarterbacking on Saturday for Mount Union? Is this a Larry Kehres ploy to even keep Wesley from not knowing who will be their signal caller? Oh well, I guess we’ll all find out soon enough in approximately 27 hours. More later….

  3. St. Thomas needs to upgrade its schedule. They have not played a top 25 team this year and that’s including the playoffs. St. Thomas has not faced a team close to the quality of Whitewater.

  4. There is an uproar on Mount Union’s campus, due to a letter to the editor of the University’s weekly newspaper (Dynamo). The Administation was called out for moving next week’s final exams up a day ( Exams will now take place Sunday thru Thursday, instead of Monday thru Friday)!

    Let’s take care of business 1st this weekend!

  5. I am looking forward to two great games. I have watched all three playoff games thus far in Alliance and, the offense just doesn’t have the same explosiveness. Injuries have been the biggest factor in that deficiency. Jasper Collins has been hurt and was a bit tentative on return. Jeremy Murray looked solid last week but also has been playing hurt. Of course, the quarterbacks have been limited by injury/inexperience. It all adds up to inconsistency and, consequently a lack of points.

    Last week, it was up to the defense to win the game. The second half was non-existent in offense as the hope was the defense would prevent enough points to be scored.

    In the other contest, I agree that, in order to compete on the biggest stages, you need some preliminary tests to prepare. St. Thomas has beaten all comers (including a determined Bethel team as well as traditional rival St. Johns). While not in the top 25 currently, those were tests nonetheless.

    I look for a great game there but predict UWW will ultimately prevail.

  6. app33 and others:

    St. Thomas Played these ranked teams this year:

    St. Johns ranked as high as 25th
    St. Olaf ranked as high as 19th
    Bethel ranked as high as 5th

    For the record,

    Art

  7. whitewater 35 st.Thommas 17…………..tommies weak schedule catches up with them………but then this is the first time this season WW will be tested ! Wesley 24 mount 14………too many injuries and underclassmen for Mount,,,,,,,,and too much McSweeny !

  8. while the finale of a best of series final would make for an interesting storyline, I don’t think we will see it. Mount has had too many injuries to overcome to establish real continuity on offense. And with Wesley having SOMEONE to play for that little extra puts them over the top.

  9. Having seen what I’ve seen, heard what I’ve heard and read what I’ve read; and having done some ruminating about it all, this is where I come out:

    Wesley can beat Mt. Union. Will they? Time will tell. Here’s a strategy that can help them accomplish that. Burn ‘em early and heap it on. Wesley has to disguise some deep pass routes that score some points early. They need to make two point conversions from the get go so that UMU is always playing catch up. And if Wesley can get up by 16 in their first two possessions then the game is theirs to lose. I know that’s a big if because Mount Union will adjust (they are very good at that) so that Wesley quits scoring at will. Additionally, this strategy forces their untested and/or sore quarterbacks to produce to get back in the game. Historically UMU has “glided” at the end of games and forcing their starters to play a full 60 minutes works to the advantage of Wesley.

    St. Thomas and UW Whitewater – this is going to be a real good game. Can the Tommies pull an upset? If the stars align – as they say. I said it earlier this week and will repeat it here for those that may have missed that comment, I think special teams will play a pivotal role in this game. I see the two teams as pretty even considering offenses verses defenses. I think it’s going to be a long field goal or great run-backs on kick-offs and punts for field position that will determine this game. Neither team is turnover prone and neither team is going to run roughshod over the other. This will be a real dog fight.

    Scores:

    Wesley 38 Mount Union 24

    UW Whitewater 24 St. Thomas 23

    Enjoy the games!

    Art

  10. Although I agree that it would have been to St. Thomas’ advantage to play Mount Union in the 2011 Semi-Final game, this year’s Tommie squad is so much better than 2011.

    This Tommie team can and will defeat the Warhawks if their offense can eliminate turnovers. They have the best offensive weapon in D3, and the speed on defense will be something Whitewater has not seen all year. This team is battle tested, and will give Whitewater everything they can handle.

    The advantage still has to go to the 2-time defending D3 champs, but don’t over look St. Thomas. Coach Caruso is building a team that is finally ready to play with the big boys. Why not this year??

    Looking forward to watching both games. All four teams can win the whole thing this year. A first in a long time!

  11. im not saying mount will win, for the first time sisnse i can remember i too am having doughts what the will do to produce some offense. but to everyone picking against mount, youre forgetting the larry kehres factor. he’ll find a way.

  12. app33 and muc85
    St. Thomas is in the process of upgrading their schedule but it is a process and it’s hard for Power Houses to get quality opponents for non-conference (ala UWW).

    St. Thomas Non Conference schedule under Caruso
    2008 & 09 Northwestern and Macalaster
    10 & 11 St. Norbert and UW-RF
    12 & 13 I’ve heard Caruso has a better WIAC school and I’m assuming a better team than St. Norberts

    The MIAC was somewhat down this year overall and you can’t really can’t that hold that against the Tommies, they beat everyone they played.

    If you look at the UWW schedule they get credit for beating quality opponents inside of the WIAC because it is a Top 3 conference so why wouldn’t St. Thomas get credit for beating St. Olaf, Bethel (best team Tommies have played thus far in my opinion), etc.

    Looking forward to a slug fest at Perkins Stadium tomorrow.

  13. In my Kickoff predictions, I said Mount Union’s defensive schemes and philosophy would prove to be the most important change of the offseason. Now comes the biggest test for Vince Kehres and the UMU defense. I think they will win the battle (with the special teams edge also going to Mount Union) and slow down Shane McSweeney just enough.

    Mount Union 17, Wesley 14

    If I could choose one of these games to attend, it would be Whitewater-St. Thomas. This should be a hard-hitting, grind it out effort from both teams. While the offensive numbers from the teams’ respective stars are staggering, this one will also come down to defense and special teams. I expect a low-scoring affair to set up Purple Bowl VII.

    UW-Whitewater 21, St. Thomas 10

  14. Im a new blogger but have viewed the site since my freshman year in 2002… have to say one of the most informing sites about sports I have seen and easy to access all info… with that said, I have seen all four of these teams via u-stream or in person this year and what a set of games we have for Saturday… Any of these teams can be playing in Salem next weekend… I will not be surprised with any outcome and am looking forward to being able to watch both games…

    As for the Wesley @ MTU game obviously I am pulling for the wolverines but should be a great game between a great offense(Wesley) and great defense(MTU)…. I believe the game will be won by which tem has a better game on the weaker side of the ball… If MTU can score at will they will obviously win but if Wesley can shut them down and only give up 3 points at a time then they will win… If Wesleys defense shows up and has a good game then I will be going to Salem next week lets go wolverines WIN ONE MORE FOR BEN!!!!

    The UWW and St. Thomas game should be a down home dogfight… I know Coppage is a beast and Blanchard can win a game too but the Tommies are going to come out swinging and if they do it from the start(which they havent been doing) they have a legitimate chance…. I think the key to the game is how may rushing yards Coppage has, if they slow him down they can stay in it and their stud WR can put them on his back and keep it close….

    Ive seen a couple post about an all purple stagg bowl again and that is fine because I love this system better than the bcs because if it were the bcs they would be playing every year anyway at least this way somebody has a shot at beating them to play…. MTU has played at home since 1996 which is a right they have deserved because they are so dominant and there has been chances for them to go on the road but the higher seeds have lost so you cant blame them…

    Looking forwar to tomorrow and hopefully I can post that I am on my way to Salem sometime next week…

  15. Frankly, you are uninformed if you say that St. Thomas has not played any good teams. I think most people forget that the MIAC is probably one of the top 3 conferences in D3 football and there aren’t really many slouch teams.

    St. Thomas played ranked teams in the MIAC and those teams are not ranked now because UST beat them all out of the rankings.

    Bethel is a quality program and was ranked as high as 5th this year, and I guarantee that if they would have slipped into the playoffs as an 8-2, would have had a decent shot at winning at least a game or two. They are betteer than St. John Fisher, who made it 3 rounds and got absolutely pummeled by UST. Bethel is still probably better than 10 of the teams that made the playoffs, and St. Olaf and St. Johns are quality teams as well.

    Folks theres a reason why a MIAC team makes it to the quarterfinals at least pretty much each year, and why there were TWO in the quarterfinals last year.

  16. While I agree that the UMU offense has struggled for consistency, the defense has not. If Mount is not moving on, it will not be bacuse the defense gave up 38 points.

    I predict a low scoring game with Mount having to play the starters all 60 minutes but pulling it out at the end.

    And I mean no disrespect to St Thomas. UMU has played Bethel in the semi’s so no slouch team. St John’s isn’t either nor is St. Olaf. It will be a close game but, in the end, I see a UWW victory and a purple rematch (again).

  17. Art:

    Do you REALLY believe that Wesley can put up 38 against that MU defense? Really? I don’t think so Art. They may put up 17 or 20….maybe, but certainly NOT 38 unless MU offense puts the “D” in constant bad field position. Just my humble opinion Art. Hopefully, it will be a good game, which I expect it will be. Good luck to both teams….GO RAIDERS!!!

  18. I sincerely believe that Wesley can beat Mount Union as long as they protect the ball, have a penalty free game, execute well and keep MU’s offense on the sideline. Shane McSweeney will have a great game probably a better game than he had against Mary Hardin-Baylor. Will be an exciting game to watch.

    Wesley College 21 – Mount Union 14.

  19. How can Pat say that Mount Union wont have to score a lot of points. Did you see the offensive explosion Wesley is capable of against Linfield. 42 unanswered points. If that offense shows up there will be a problem.

  20. First Off I believe Mount Union will defeat Wesley tomorrow. It will be 20 17 in OT. True Mount’s offense Has been struggling at times. I saw first hand last week and their 2nd half was bad. Trust me Larry Kehres will find that unacceptable!!! If Vince Kehres just let’s the defense play, things will work out. As for St Thomas at UWW, that should be a battle. I watched my my son play against them 2 weeks ago. St Thomas is the real deal folks! It won’t be easy but St Thomas wins 24. 17. I have been at the last 3 Stagg Bowls cheering on my older son and seen the talent. UWW has been a great Champion! But St Thomas special teams lead the way to Salem.

  21. Wesley can beat MUC tomorrow if they play the same way last week against UMHB.

    Wesley 21 – MUC 17

    St. Thomas 13- UW-W 10
    UMHB

  22. Honestly, I think the whitewater game tomorrow is a coing flip. These two teams are about as evenly matched as you can get. Often our special teams give us the benefit of the doubt (when there is doubt, which isn’t too often), but St. Thomas’s kicking/return game is even better than ours. Levell Coppage has a knack for putting up obscene numbers late in the postseeason (299 yards in the stagg bowl!?!?!), and with Matt Blanchard healthy this year we should be able to score just enough to win.

    Our streak has to come to an end eventually, though, and if it’s going to happen it may as well be today against a worthy opponent.

  23. Well im not going to salem but thats ok because in previous years our offense let us down and the roles were reversed this year…. i told u it would come down to if wesley could stop mount union and they couldnt i am proud of my boys they played hard real hard came up a little short now i can only be a fan for St. Thomas because I dont want to see another UWW MTU stagg bowl good job wolverines we return alot and hopefully Sottilare can get next year it done come on blue!!!!! Listen MTU and UWW are the ones to beat but if you eliminate a stupid mistake we win but big upos to MTU…. They are good ooops I mean great they always find a way…. good luck but lets go TOMMIES

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