On Sunday, September 25th UW-Platteville Coach Mike Emendorfer and his staff will check on the players who have bumps and bruises from the Pioneers' game against UW-LaCrosse, review and grade the game film, and work feverishly at putting together the ingredients of their plan of attack for their October 1st game against UW-Whitewater. Undoubtedly, much time will be spent on both how to slow down QB Matt Blanchard and All-American running back Levell Coppage. The offensive coaches will study the Warhawks and try to develop a plan to move the ball against a stingy Warhawk defense. However, any game plan to beat UW-Whitewater will have to start with taking care of the football on offense and staying gap disciplined on defense. If those pieces aren't in place, the Warhawks will quickly render the rest of the blueprint immaterial. And then on game day, there is the matter of executing the game plan. Planning to beat UW-Whitewater has it's challenges. Actually doing it is a different challenge altogether. Beating UW-W means more than having a good plan to stop them, maintaining gap discipline, and taking care of the football. Unless the game is one of those rare "anything can happen" Saturdays, winning against Whitewater means winning the battle of the line of scrimmage. And that is the epitome of "easier said than done" in Division III football.
The staff at Campbellsville University, 17th ranked nationally in the NAIA Coaches Poll heading into last Saturday's game against UW-W, found that out the hard way for the second consecutive year.
"We feel like we can go in there and match up with them in the skill positions,” CU head coach Perry Thomas said before the game. “We thought we did last year. If it wasn't for a couple of miscues early, we could have made it a competitive ballgame."
How well CU matched up with UW-W at the skill positions is debatable given the Warhawks gashed the Tigers for 7 touchdowns, 5 of which were plays of 48 yards or longer. CU certainly didn't match up too well with Tyler Huber, who caught TD passes of 54 and 64 yards. And although Campbellsville may have the fastest players at the skill positions UW-W will see this side of Salem, speed alone couldn't prevent them from giving up 431 yards in the first half or losing the game 54-14.
Two of the hallmarks of UW-Whitewater teams over the past several years are superior line play and precise and disciplined execution. And while an occasional speedy receiver will get behind the last line of the UW-W defense, very seldom does this team get gashed by their own lack of gap discipline. If planning for a team as talented and disciplined as Whitewater is a headache, executing the plan on game day is downright concussive. The Tigers found that out up close and personal for the second consecutive year. Because the factors are interrelated, it's hard to dissect what went wrong first for CU. But a culmination of factors proved to be a recipe for disaster for Campbellsvile and resulted in a relatively easy victory for the Warhawks:
Turning the Ball Over
In any football game, turnovers will decrease the likelihood of victory dramatically. Against a team as dangerous as UW-W, it almost assures being blown out. The cost of a single turnover is perilously high in terms of giving up a possession, giving UW-W an extra possession, and yielding precious field position. Looking at the percentage of Warhawk drives that end up as a score (UW-W scored in 9 of 13 possessions in the first 3 quarters Saturday), giving them extra possessions is deadly.
Lack of Gap Discipline
On both Desmin Ward's 48 yard touchdown run and Levell Coppage's 60 yard burst, Campbellsville helped create the huge gaps by failing to collectively maintain their defensive gaps. Perhaps sensing they were outmanned on the line of scrimmage, too often they took unnecessary risks and over-committed to a specific direction prematurely, abandoning their gap and creating holes in their line of defense. With UW-W's astute coaching and scouting aptitude, these tendencies will invariably get exploited on game day. It does take discipline to maintain your gap when your team is getting beaten at the line of scrimmage. And there is certainly no evidence that gap discipline alone would have led to a close game. But the fact is that the Warhawks made CU pay dearly for their lack of gap discipline.
Losing the Battle of the Line of Scrimmage
UW-W won the battle of the trenches convincingly on both sides of the ball. Had the Tigers truly matched up evenly with the skill position players of the Warhawks, this game still would not have been close. The talent and execution level of the offensive and defensive fronts of Whitewater was simply too much for the Tigers. Winning and losing these up front battles is the biggest determiner of victory and defeat. While people rightfully point to turnovers as the biggest key to victory in a football game, more often than not, turnovers are not an accident. Winning the line of scrimmage battle creates pressure. Pressure creates turnovers. Even "unforced" turnovers are more often committed by the team that has been losing the battle of the line of scrimmage. Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage wears down the opponent and forces them into the cardinal sins of football, turning the ball over and failure to maintain gap discipline.
On October 1st, Platteville will bring in an ultra talented quarterback and some other very talented football players to take on the Warhawks in Perkins Stadium. Coach Emendorfer will have them prepared with a solid game plan. They will play smart and they will play hard. The outcome will likely come down to the trenches. If the offensive line can impose it's will on the Pioneers, Blanchard, Coppage, and a host of gifted wide receivers will have their opportunities for big plays. If the defensive front of UW-W can maintain a stout defensive front and apply pressure, the Warhawks will create opportunities for turnovers. If Whitewater plays like Whitewater by taking care of the football and maintaining gap control, it will be very hard for the Pioneers to pull off the upset. However, if the Pioneers do the same, the October 1st clash should be a good one. But if the Pioneers are dominated up front, the best laid plans can unravel quickly. And if they begin turning the ball over on offense or abandoning their gaps on defense, they will find themselves, like Campbellsville, stirring a recipe for disaster.