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TAG | Alma

Oct/13

4

Triple Take: Starting to click


PLU teammates look on as Connor Cummings breaks up a pass downfield at UW-Eau Claire.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

We hear it in the ATN Podcast. We read about it in regional columns or on the message boards. The elements of a team that were hazy and green early on are finally starting to click.

Offensive lines that were breaking in new members and secondaries that got burned in the opening games are now settling into their roles and learning how to work together, and most of all, to play off one another. They’ve become a team, in every sense of the word.

And there are so many of those teams in Division III. For Triple Take, Pat, Keith and Ryan bring some insight into just a sliver of those that are out there.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 11 Pacific Lutheran at No. 2 Linfield.
Probably one of the most anticipated conference clashes of the season — and I hope that it lives up to the billing. Linfield, though, is teetering toward nearly 600 yards a game in offense and is a wildcat when it comes to putting up points. The Lutes, on the other hand, are coming off a close win against UW-Eau Claire, which, as Pat and Keith mentioned in this space last week, could be attributed to them getting caught looking ahead to this matchup. While Pacific Lutheran and Linfield aren’t all that far apart on the Top 25, I think the dropoff from that elite tier to where the Lutes are is significant enough that it would be a clear upset if PLU were to win.
Pat’s take: Augsburg at No. 5 Bethel. Although I like that game above as well, obviously. Augsburg remains a dark horse in the MIAC, not having played anyone of note on the national or regional scene as of yet. And since the season started, that dark horse status has been usurped by St. John’s, then Concordia-Moorhead. But the Auggies have a pretty special quarterback in sophomore Ayrton Scott, a significant dual threat. Bethel, however, has grass, and a lot of rain in the Twin Cities leading up to this weekend. It could get messy.
Keith’s take: No. 11 Pacific Lutheran at No. 2 Linfield. I know we try to mix it up, and I pick third by virtue of waiting the longest to put my games into the blog post, but to me there’s not another choice in Week 5. A large part of why I believe that is because PLU played Linfield twice last year, losing 31-24 at home in Tacoma and 27-24 in McMinnville in the playoffs. So while Linfield has outscored its three opponents 168-35 and looks like it might have a team for the ages, the Lutes aren’t intimidated. Both teams frontloaded their schedules, perhaps to get ready for this game. It could be clear sailing for each after this — no disrespect to Willamette, Pacific and the rest of the NWC bunch. QB Dalton Ritchey and the Lutes are rarely penalized and have seven turnovers in three games, but it would help against Linfield if they generate some. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are fifth nationally in total offense and No. 15 in defense. In the playoff game, Linfield sacked Ritchey six times and had a key interception return for a TD, and they’d like to get after him again.


Richard Gunn’s Trine team could be the near-victim of a surprisingly close game, or the Thunder could be on your radar at the end of the weekend.
Photo by Eric Kelley, d3photography.com

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Kalamazoo at Trine.
These two team pretty regularly go in opposite directions in the standings, but K-zoo has been playing well enough at the line (on both sides of the ball) this season that they could keep this one close. What’s been killing them most this year is the turnovers — and they’re one of the worst offenders in the country in that category. Guard the ball and air it out a bit to put the linebackers on their heels and this game will be within a score.
Pat’s take: UW-Eau Claire at No. 9 UW-Platteville. I feel like I could be going out on a limb here a bit but on paper, when you think about Platteville struggling early with Lewis and Clark and Pacific Lutheran not being able to finish off Eau Claire until the end, there’s a case to be made. The question will be whether Joel Sweeney and the Eau Claire offense can wear down the Platteville defense and whether the Eau Claire defense can even begin to slow down the Pioneers’ passing game.
Keith’s take: Olivet at Alma. The Comets are 4-0, and the Scots 0-4 with just 33 points scored. Easy pickins, right? Well, if Alma isn’t demoralized by the unfortunately powerful part of their schedule — Heidelberg and UW-Oshkosh are former doormats now in the top 25, and Illnois Wesleyan is knocking on the door as well — maybe not. The Comets were the only team Alma beat last year, and that came after getting similiarly pummeled in their first four games. The Scots also had a 20-0 lead against Lakeland but gave up the winning score with 24 seconds left, so they’re not hopeless when matched against someone of their caliber. Alma’s numbers are bad across the board, and Olivet has beaten Wilmington, Rockford, Wisconsin Lutheran and North Park by starting with good run defense — just 74.3 yards per game allowed. They’ve generated turnovers as well.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 5 Bethel.
Both Bethel and opponent Augsburg have played decent schedules — at least enough so to prepare them to face each other. I have Augsburg on my Top 25 ballot, so I certainly think there’s something there to like. There are similarities in the two teams’ offensive capabilities, and both are ahead of the curve in terms of forcing turnovers. It would surprise me little if a big play or two were the deciding factor in this one.
Pat’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. Although this would only be an upset on paper. Delaware Valley and Lycoming are closer together than a No. 21 ranking and zero votes would suggest. The top teams in the MAC … and of course, the number of top teams is up for debate … are all really close together. The thing keeping Lycoming from having Top 25 votes is the inability of the offense to even score against Brockport State.
Keith’s take: No. 21 Delaware Valley. Not to dump on the Aggies, who could very well go on the road and beat Lycoming, I just don’t see a lot of top 25 upsets this week. There are some top 25 teams I wonder about — We’ve yet to see No. 15 Wheaton against a strong opponent, for example, but visiting Augustana might not fit that bill, even at 2-1; I’m curious if No. 22 Christopher Newport can be consistent through 10 games — but not many I’d pick to lose.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: No. 8 UW-Oshkosh.
OK, so there’s no team ranked in the Top 10 that isn’t already on my radar. But they are higher in the overall poll than they are on my ballot, because clobbering an 0-4 Alma team and beating a non-Division III opponent don’t give me a lot of great data to go on. So let’s not say that they’re just coming on my radar, rather let’s say I’m hoping to use Saturday’s game against UW-Stout to help calibrate that radar a bit.
Pat’s take: Misericordia. I’m calling it here — first win in program history on Saturday. That’s because if they don’t win at home vs. King’s, it’s a long wait until the next chance. They play Widener, Lebanon Valley, Stevenson and Albright before ending the 2013 season at FDU-Florham. You need to do it here, Cougars.
Keith’s take: Brockport State. The Golden Eagles beat Lycoming, 30-2, then lost close games at Buffalo State and against Alfred in overtime. Rowan makes the longest remaining road trip in the NJAC, six hours from South Jersey to the village northwest of Rochester and not far from the banks of Lake Ontario. The Profs aren’t the easiest team to figure out either, so this game could go in an unexpected direction. What we do know is that the Golden Eagles, behind their dual Tys, QB Ty Stoldt and RB Tyrone Nichols, can put up offense. The bad news is that even after holding Lycoming to 2 points, Brockport still has the country’s 223rd-ranked defense.

Team most likely to salvage a bad season.
Ryan’s take: Salisbury.
The Gulls have had two weeks to put the past behind them and give into E8 play, which starts this week at Utica. In fact, Salisbury carries with it a 13-1 conference record over two seasons, winning the automatic qualifier both times. Maybe chalk this up to the quarterbacking tandem of John Dunbar and Joey Jones feeling like they’ve gotten their feet wet — “clicking” if I want to play off the Triple Take intro. Maybe their near win against Wesley still resonates. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll still finish the season 8-2.
Pat’s take: UW-River Falls. And it hasn’t been a particularly bad season, but it was definitely a bad September in the W-L column. If I continue to feel like the Falcons are going to be better than the two wins they had last year, this is a game (at UW-Stevens Point) they should think about winning. I feel like I’ve written almost these exact same words in #3take in the past, too.
Keith’s take: Monmouth. It wasn’t that long ago when the Scots’ game with St. Norbert was the defacto MWC title game. Now Monmouth is 1-2 and the Green Knights 3-1. The Scots go on the road for the first time this season, and after a 1-point and a 3-point loss at home, the trip to DePere, Wis. might be welcome. There’s no pressure, but plenty of inspiration in this old-fashioned conference rivalry. If the Scots can get RB Trey Yocum, the nation’s fourth-leading rusher (160.7 yards/game) going against St. Norbert’s defense, which has given up yards but no more than seven points the past three games, they could score a mild upset.

A conference opener you like.
Ryan’s take: Emory and Henry at Randolph-Macon.
There have been more than a few times in recent years in which the Wasps torched the opposition in nonconference play and then slid a bit once the ODAC docket began. Against the 2-1 Yellow Jackets, we’ll get a good idea of just what kind of team E&H is this season and whether star passer Kyle Boden and his top-notch receiving corps can keep the offensive sparks flying. R-MC is certainly no pushover and, as always, is expected to also be in the conference hunt.
Pat’s take: Loras at Luther. I like this game because these two teams had such poor seasons last year and Loras’ only conference win was against Luther. It’s a chance for Luther to return the favor, and the Norse already have a surprise win under their belt with the victory against rival St. Olaf earlier in the season.
Keith’s take: Simpson at Wartburg and Adrian at Hope. The IIAC and MIAA have both been mentioned plenty already, so I’ll keep it brief. Storm QB Taylor Nelson is completing 68% of his passes, 20 of which have gone to Brad Vogel in a 2-1 start. The Knights are 2-1 as well, and LB Ryan Billings and the defense could make a statement. I don’t know that there’s a clear IIAC favorite yet, but this game will help us determine one; Same goes for the MIAA, where Flying Dutchmen QB Michael Atwell is third in the country with 1,306 passing yards, while a team traditionally known for good defense tries to stop him. LB Deontae Bridgeman leads the Bulldogs’ defense.

Which “fighters” will win their battle this week?
Ryan’s take: The Spartans of Dubuque.
I have to believe that a nonconference slate of WIAC teams prepares someone as well as possible for their run toward the AQ. While it’s tough to say that the Spartans hung with their opponents each time, some late scores tell me that they’re not ones to throw in the towel. With a visit from Central on deck, Dubuque can bring themselves back into the Iowa discussion, a year after a deflating .500 season. And they’d do themselves some favors, too, if they’d find a darned ground game.
Pat’s take: The Privateers of SUNY-Maritime. I just know it won’t be the Mariners of the Merchant Marine Academy, and that’s a shame. I just don’t want to see something like “Fightin’ Engineers” in this category because you could put “Fighting” in front of anything. Except Quakers, perhaps. No Fighting Quakers. Or Diplomats.
Keith’s take: The Majors of Millsaps. Could you do Fighting Flying Dutchmen? Because that seems like one modifier too many. And while we’re on fighters, how lucky is Coast Guard to be under the Department of Defense instead of Transportation? The Bears’ game with Western New England will go on. But anyway, Millsaps hosts Hendrix. And after one week — mostly one giant SB Nation article — turned Hendrix from ‘the first-year program that could’ to ‘okay, enough about these noobs,’ I’m sure the Majors (3-0) would like to give the Warriors (2-1) a proper Welcome-to-D-III humbling.

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Tyler Brown
Tyler Brown helps key a defense that has allowed just 177 yards per game.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo

We’re past the midway point in the season. Many conferences still have nearly half their teams in contention. Races are still wide open, but for the seasoned observer, conclusions are being drawn and expectations are being laid.

Less than one month from now, the final regular season game of 2011 will be played. The time has flown by, hasn’t it? But don’t look too far ahead because there are games right in your backyard that still matter, that still carry excitement and that still could buck your expectations.

Pat Coleman, Keith McMillan and Ryan Tipps give you nearly two dozen games to mull over in this week’s Triple Take.

Game of the Week.
Ryan’s take: No. 2 Mount Union at Heidelberg.
I know that it’s always a gamble highlighting a regular-season Mount Union game because they so rarely are close enough to warrant this kind of hype. But Heidelberg is having a great year, and the past two weeks’ victories over Capital and Muskingum leave no doubt that they are a team to keep your eye on. Heidelberg is a team that starts fast, playing hard-nosed football on both sides of the ball, especially through the first half. So far this year, the Student Princes have given up nothing more than a field goal in the first quarter. That’s total, folks. And they’ve got a ground man averaging nearly 125 yards a game and a passer throwing for well over 200 a game. It’s the kind of dual offense they need to bring into the Mount Union game this weekend. Couple that attack with a defense that is plus-14 in the turnover ratio, and you’ve got a game that can be competitive.
Keith’s take: No. 18 Salisbury at No. 23 Alfred. Most of the top 25 are playing teams they should beat, but the Empire 8 gauntlet takes weeks to run through. Since a bye week, the Sea Gulls have averaged 67.5 points a game. They rush for 363 yards a game, while the Saxons allow just 98. Alfred’s defense is No. 15 nationally, while Salisbury passes enough to make its offense No. 9 in the country. After Alfred’s 17-3 loss to St. John Fisher, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Salisbury run away with it; then again, this is the Saxons’ chance to dig deep and have people take notice. Otherwise, we look ahead to SJF’s Nov. 5 trip to Maryland’s Eastern shore.
Pat’s take: Centre at Birmingham-Southern. This isn’t the only game either of them needs to win to take the SCAC, but it’s the first blow, with the winner needing to also beat Trinity (Texas) to avoid a three-way split and a tiebreaker situation. Centre hasn’t gotten much credit from our poll, probably because Washington & Lee, the Colonels’ best opponent, is unranked as well, but it’s safe to say they’re in the ballpark for consideration on a few ballots.

Surprisingly close game.
Ryan’s take: Trine at Alma.
A 4-1 team vs. a 1-5 is rarely a recipe for a close contest, but Alma this season has gone above and beyond by scheduling some of the toughest teams they could get their hands on. Of those five losses, the three nonconference games were against 4-1 Heidelberg, 5-0 Illinois Wesleyan and 5-1 Washington and Lee. And each was separated by eight points or less. The Thunder, on the other hand, have been winning this year but not by the big comfortable margins they’ve seen in the past couple of seasons. The Scots can put up a lot of yards and points. Expect them to do just that on Saturday.
Keith’s take: No. 8 Thomas More at St. Vincent. Outside of PAC country, you might think of the Saints as a top-10 program and the Bearcats as the conference pushover. But no longer; St. Vincent (3-2) is six points from being unbeaten, and just knocked off Washington & Jefferson last week. Kendall Owens is the name you know for Thomas More, but they’re getting efficient passing from Rob Kues and rushing contributions from Domonique Hayden, Luke Magness and Landon Savoy. St. Vincent has the PAC’s best rush defense at 104 yards allowed a game; Thomas More (196/game) has the PAC’s top rush offense.
Pat’s take: No. 9 Bethel at Gustavus Adolphus. Since convincingly dispatching with its first two opponents, Bethel has had a few results that were puzzling late in the game — a close home game against Carleton, a loss at home to St. Olaf and a game at St. John’s that was close throughout before two late scores. The 1-4 mark for Gustavus (26-21 loss at Wartburg) is certainly deceiving and this won’t be the kind of blowout you picture for a Top 10 team against a one-win opponent.

Most likely Top 25 team to get upset.
Ryan’s take: No. 20 Johns Hopkins.
This is a stretch, though, as not many Top 25 games are looking good this week to call the upset. JHU is lining up against Dickinson, a team that’s coming off a win against a lost-its-luster Franklin and Marshall squad. Still, Dickinson is a team that’s certainly found itself down at times, but it’s rarely out. Turnovers are the potential game-changers here.
Keith’s take: No. 14 Delaware Valley. At 6-0 with three one-score victories, the Aggies might be one of the more fortunate teams in the top 15. They’re young on offense, but have been propped up by the nation’s No. 9 total defense (225 yards/game). Albright, which averaged more than 50 points per game the last three weeks of September to get to 4-0, has been held to 15 points per game in October losses to Lycoming and Lebanon Valley. Common opponents don’t explain much here; the Lions hung 65 on Wilkes and Delaware Valley scored 14. Lebanon Valley lost by 24 at Delaware Valley and won by seven at Albright. If the Lions can rediscover their September offense, there’s upset potential here. One would think going against the MAC’s toughest defense means struggle is ahead, but often knowing the challenge in advance makes for a more attentive, effort-filled week of practice, and teams rise to the occasion.
Pat’s take: No. 25 UW-Oshkosh. The Karner Rules (these are the ones that say a conference opponent can’t take an overnight trip, as opposed to the ones that say two conference teams must play one non-conference game against each other) prohibit a WIAC team from staying overnight for this trip, hence the 2 p.m. local kickoff time. Platteville is no slouch and if healthy, the Pioneers won’t necessarily go all Bo Ryan swing offense on the Titans, but should give them a heck of a game with the upset a distinct possibility. Hey, Saturday is the start of basketball practice. It has to make some sense somewhere.

They’ll be on your radar.
Ryan’s take: Baldwin-Wallace.
This is a team I had pegged in Kickoff as being the OAC’s No. 2, and that claim will be tested against Ohio Northern. Aside from a somewhat surprising loss against Capital earlier in the year, the Yellow Jackets have been winning — though not by dominating margins. While there are a handful of teams above ONU in the conference standings, toppling the Polar Bears would be as symbolic as it is significant.
Keith’s take: Framingham State. They’ve won three in a row since a 1-2 start to get to 4-2, but they need to win at Maine Maritime to stay on track in the NEFC Bogan division. They’ve got the perfect inspiration: The Mariners rushed for 523 yards on the Rams last year and handed them one of their two losses.
Pat’s take: Trinity (Texas). And I guess this is going to put me at odds with the pick by Ryan Tipps below me but here’s why I make this a split decision: Huntingdon has won two pretty impressive games at home, but going to Trinity is still a different story and has been since 1996. Last year the Tigers lost three games at home and it’s hard to see that happening again, although Trinity ends with Huntingdon, Centre and Birmingham-Southern at home, so it’s not at all unreasonable.

Of the Nos. 26-30 teams, which is most likely to win its way into the Top 25?
Ryan’s take: Huntingdon.
The Hawks are already in my Top 25, something I believe they’ve earned after wins over Hampden-Sydney and Wittenberg. This week’s opponent is undefeated Trinity (Texas), which has also flirted at times with being on my ballot. A win here will be a huge boost and will be the third time this season that they’ll have dealt a one-loss team that lone blemish.
Keith’s take: Huntingdon. It can only be the Hawks making a move this week; handing Trinity its first loss would be a third impressive win (along with Hampden-Sydney and Wittenberg). If Birmingham-Southern, the only team to beat the Hawks this season, also lodges a win against unbeaten Centre, there’ll be enough ammo for voters to feel comfortable bumping them up. With Cortland State playing Western Connecticut, Wittenberg facing Kenyon, St. Olaf battling rival Carleton and Hobart sitting idle, it’s the only choice.
Pat’s take: Anyone but Hobart. It’s hard to figure on what keeps Hobart so down in the coaches’ poll, with just nine votes out of 42 voters (.2 average), making the Statesmen’s 1.4-point average in the D3football.com Top 25 seem laudatory. Are the coaches reacting to Hobart’s offseason sanctions, where they were placed on three years’ probation? But one thing which probably hurts Hobart’s reputation is after this week, some teams will have played seven games, most conferences serious about football will have played six … and Hobart will have played four. That’s what an eight-game non-NESCAC schedule looks like. Actually, also what a NESCAC schedule looks like.

Which team will be affected the most by injury?
Ryan’s take: Guilford.
The Quakers came into Week 1 with a new coach, a new strategy and new energy. But an injury here, and an injury there can create holes in that excitement. Starting quarterback Zac Halbert played sparingly in last week’s loss, and his health and ability to return to the field will be an important factor. But the field is littered with more spots where the depth chart is being raided. Prior to the season, Guilford should have expected to be sitting at 3-2 and going into a winnable game against Bridgewater. Now, they’re at 1-4, and a win on Saturday would be considered an upset.
Keith’s take: Uncertain. I’m afraid I’m going to have to forfeit my expert badge for this one. The injury that might most affect Saturday’s games might not have even happened yet. But I also don’t have a great feel for teams this season that have lost key guys, or a bunch of them. School me in the comments section below.
Pat’s take: Colby. Everyone is dealing with injuries seven weeks into the season, so it’s hard to see it as a valid excuse here. But even if maybe you don’t give Colby much of a chance at home against Amherst, linebacker Mike Hyatt’s injury has to affect more than the White Mules’ on-the-field play. This young man suffered his fourth concussion recently, his second in college football, and is not expected to play football again. In his final game two weeks ago against Middlebury, Hyatt recorded 18 tackles, nine solo, and recovered a fumble, but his absence will leave the White Mules’ linebacking corps pretty young.

Red, blue or green?
Ryan’s take: Blue (and gold) of Ithaca.
The Bombers are going to line up against Springfield on Saturday, at a spot in the season where they’re playing for pride more than they are for the Empire 8’s automatic qualifier. The two teams match up well against each other, and it’ll be interesting to see which offense (Springfield’s 379-yard-a-game rushing efforts or Ithaca’s mostly blended attack) will be able to put a chink in the opponent’s armor. Ithaca’s offense is pretty woeful in the red zone, where not converting means more than loss of points, it means loss of momentum.
Keith’s take: Blue of Concordia (Wis). The Falcons started 0-3, but have dominated the two Northern Athletics Conference teams its played. The game against Benedictine is to hang on to at least a share of first place in a conference where everyone has multiple overall losses, but gets an automatic bid just like anyone else. The Falcons, who have outscored Rockford and Maranatha Baptist 105-21, takes its conference-best defense and puts it up against Benedictine’s conference-best offense.
Pat’s take: Green (and gold) of Presentation. In Kickoff 2011, we predicted the first-year Saints would go 2-8, 1-8 in the UMAC. But we figured that win would be at MacMurray. The Saints surprised even our generous prediction by winning last week against Crown. A win at MacMurray, which has lost 17 in a row and (yikes!) 44 of 45 games, would give them three wins in their first season of football and be pretty impressive by any standard.

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The trophy
Redlands quarterback Chad Hurst led four second-half scoring drives in the Bulldogs’ win.

The opening weekend of the season is exciting enough without all these hear-stopping finishes we had. North Central … Otterbein … Delaware Valley … Mississippi College … Bridgewater … Illinois College. Plus a big Top 25 matchup and much more to talk about.

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