Mount Union spreads out the wealth
Whether UW-Whitewater can slow down the Mount Union Express will be the key in today’s 35th annual Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl that will decide the NCAA Division III football champion.
Mount Union’s offense is scoring at a ridiculous pace. The Purple Raiders, in their first season running the spread offense, have already broken the NCAA Division III single-season scoring record with 757 points. In four playoff games, Mount Union has amassed 215 points—also a Division III record.
A staggering 547.9 yards per game of total offense has allowed the Purple Raiders to average 54.1 points per game. That’s tops in all NCAA divisions.
Trying to devise a game plan to slow down the Purple Raiders falls on Warhawk defensive coordinator Brian Borland. Wrapping up his 14th season, Borland knows he’s never encountered an offense as prolific as today’s opponent.
“That offense is capable of doing anything,” Borland said. “We have to get ready for a lot of stuff versus these guys without a lot of time to do it.
“They’ve got a lot of talent at every position, but we feel pretty confident about our guys’ ability as well,” Borland said. “Mount Union’s probably not going to do anything we haven’t seen before. But they’re going to do things as well or better than most people.”
The Purple Raiders wealth of talent begins with tailback Nate Kmic. The junior has rushed for 1,579 yards and 35 touchdowns. With Mount Union regularly in a one-back, shotgun set with four receivers, teams can’t concentrate solely on stopping Kmic.
When that happens, the Purple Raiders turn to quarterback Greg Micheli, the MVP of last year’s Stagg Bowl. Micheli ran the spread in high school and quickly picked up the nuances of the system under Mount Union coach Larry Kehres. In 14 games, Micheli has thrown for 3,280 yards and 34 touchdowns.
“The spread matches Greg Micheli’s skills,” Kehres said. “He’s a good decision-maker in terms of go to the right, go to the left, pick a run or pick a pass.
“We’ve been in four-receiver sets for a lot of snaps the last two years, but this year the percentage has increased because of the play of the quarterback and the play of the receivers.”
Whitewater will counter with an offense that has thrived under first-year quarterback Danny Jones. With his ability to make plays with his arm and his legs, Jones gives the offense another dimension. The Warhawks have been held under 20 points only twice all season, once in a loss to St. Cloud State and the other in last Saturday’s 16-7 semifinal win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in miserable conditions.
Field position and ball control will be key for the Warhawks today. As impressive as the Purple Raiders are on offense, the defense may be even more dominating. Mount Union has shut out seven opponents this season, including six in a row during the regular season.
The Purple Raiders defense has scored more points than their opponents’ offense.
Despite coaching what many are calling the greatest team ever in Division III football, Kehres knows his team will have its hands full with the Warhawks.
“We’ve had to play our best games of the year to win the last two Stagg Bowls,” Kehres said. “I’d feel a lot better if we were playing a team that wasn’t so good.”
So would Whitewater.