It’s finally time for the UW-Whitewater football team to host a game.
And not a moment too soon.
The Warhawks spent the first month-plus of the season playing on the road—three nonconference games and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opener last week at Oshkosh. And the road hasn’t been kind, leading to an eye-opening 1-3 start.
“It’s been a long haul to get ourselves to this point to have a home game at ‘The Perk,’” said UW-W head coach Kevin Bullis, referencing Perkins Stadium. “I know the kids are pretty excited about it, and I’m pretty excited about it.”
Perhaps avoiding a lengthy bus ride will help the Warhawks correct a few areas of concern.
Defensively, Bullis has pointed to long pass plays and an inability last Saturday to stop the run in the second half. The Titans piled up more than 500 yards of total offense and refused to let UW-W’s defense off the field, holding the ball for nearly 40 of the 60 minutes.
Offensively, Whitewater has turned the ball over 12 times in four games—six via interception and six via fumble. And the Warhawks have scored just 19 first-half points this season, including trailing Oshkosh 13-0 at the break in an eventual 37-20 loss.
“If we don’t give up a long pass, it’s a 6-0 at half,” Bullis said. “But we don’t wait until the second half to roll. You’re developing tempo during the course of that first half. No doubt in my mind, we needed to score in that first half and not given up that long pass.
“And then you’d have felt much better at halftime and gone in not pressing in the second half.”
The Warhawks’ early-season struggles have certainly taken the Division III football community by surprise. UW-Stout has turned some heads, as well, thanks to an upset victory over St. Thomas that moved the Blue Devils into the national rankings.
Stout is 2-1 overall after losing its WIAC opener to Platteville, but the victory Sept. 9 against St. Thomas has carried enough wait to leave the Blue Devils at No. 22 in the latest D3Football.com poll. They haven’t finished with a .500 record or better since 2011.
“You see a team that’s playing very good defense,” Bullis said. “Offensively, explosive. They’ve got a quarterback that can scramble around very well.
“Stout’s always kind of been the team in our league that kind of reminds you of the old Oakland Raiders. They like to chuck and duck, and you’re definitely going to see that Saturday. That’ll be the key piece, the long pass and keeping that quarterback wrangled in.”
Bullis and his staff have also worked to make sure that the slow start does not cause the Warhawks to spiral or snowball.
“You don’t want guys to lose their motivation, and we had a great conversation Sunday with our seniors and each position group,” Bullis said. “This reminds me a lot of our 2012 season. In 2012, the seniors grabbed the team at the end of the season and got ourselves some wins to get ourselves back on the right track.
“I think our players are approaching it in the right manner.”
Following three straight national championships, the 2012 Warhawks team suffered back-to-back midseason losses but won its final two games to finish 7-3.
UW-W went on to win the next two national championships, going undefeated in both seasons.
If another such renaissance is in the cards for Whitewater, perhaps it begins with a home game this weekend.