The film showed the UW-Whitewater defense all it needed to know.
The numbers confirmed it.
St. John’s quarterback Jackson Erdmann is the best quarterback the Warhawks defense has faced this season.
Containing the transfer from Penn State will be the priority when the Warhawks (12-1) take on the Johnnies (12-1) at 2 p.m. at Perkins Stadium on Saturday. A trip to the Stagg Bowl will be on the line.
Erdmann won the 2018 Gagliardi Award given to the best player at the Division III level. He will likely be a finalist again this season after throwing for 4,698 yards and 46 touchdowns.
The list of Gagliardi finalists is to be released today.
Erdmann threw for five touchdowns in each of the last two playoff games. He led St. John’s to a 55-26 second-round victory against host Chapman (California) and a 34-33 victory over host Wheaton (Illinois) in the quarterfinals.
UW-Whitewater senior captain Jacob Erbs didn’t feel the need to compare Erdmann to any quarterback the Warhawks have faced this season.
“He’s the best quarterback we have faced, by far,” the linebacker said. “So do I want to compare him to someone else? No, I don’t want to do that.
“Taking care of him is going to be vital. Obviously, they’re going to try to throw the ball, so if the weather is like they say it’s going to be—cold and rainy—that’s perfect for the Warhawks.”
Erdmann, who transferred to St. John’s after spending a season with Penn State as a preferred walk-on, leads NCAA Division III in passing yards and is fourth in passing efficiency.
Ravi Alston, Erdmann’s top target, averages 100 yards receiving and almost six catches per game. He has 12 touchdowns for the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion.
St. John’s has two players with more than 1,000 yards receiving. Erdmann averages nearly 17 yards per completion. His willingness to stay in the pocket and trust that his release is quick enough to get the ball downfield from sideline to sideline is his greatest strength.
UW-Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis leaned on a familiar refrain regarding Erdmann.
“You’re never going to stop him. What we do have to be able to do is we do have to be able to slow him down,” Bullis said. “We have to make sure we do is not give him long touchdown passes.
“That is the biggest piece. We’re going to have to make them execute and be disruptive to him and their passing attack. It’s what they did last year, as well. He is ultimately, to me, an amazing quarterback and one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen here and in the playoffs.”
Bullis has the Warhawks in the semifinals for the second year in a row and for the third time in his five years as head coach.
MIAC QB comparison
When UW-Whitewater beat Bethel at Perkins Stadium in 2018, the Warhawks were facing Jaren Roste, a dual-threat quarterback who transferred in from the University of Minnesota.
Roste was the best quarterback UW-Whitewater faced in 2018, and they were able to minimize the damage done during a rainy game. Roste completed 14 of his 29 passes and threw four interceptions.
UW-W senior quarterback Cole Wilber, who was the WIAC Player of the Year in 2018, completed 1 of his 9 passes for eight yards, which serves as an indication of the impact elements played on that game.
MIAC defensive comparison
St. John’s linebacker Danny Pietruszewski had five tackles and a sack in the victory against Wheaton. In the postgame news conference, Pietruszewski acknowledged that Wheaton had a size advantage, but the Johnnies were able to take advantage of their speed and leverage to overcome that.
Bethel had a similar advantage in 2018, and the Warhawks managed to run for 230 yards despite completing one pass all game.
St. John’s defeated UW-Stout 14-7 in the season opening game.
The Warhawks earned a 37-17 victory against the Blue Devils in the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Concordia-Moorhead handed St. John’s its only loss of the season, 19-18 in overtime, in the eighth game of the season. UW-Whitewater won at Concordia-Moorhead 20-10.
“There’s no doubt both teams have gotten better since we’ve seen them,” Concordia-Moorhead coach Terry Horan said. “They’re both really athletic and fast, so I’m sure it will be a great game.”
Matchup to watch
Chris Harris has taken an interesting route to becoming the best defensive back in the St. John’s secondary.
Harris redshirted at Montana State (FCS) and then transferred to Chadron State (Neb.). He then transferred to St. John’s.
Harris had four interceptions for St. John’s in 2018 and has seven this season.
Harris is a physical, 6-foot-2 defensive back with length who will challenge UW-Whitewater receivers on the edge.
Warhawks receivers Ryan Wisniewski, JT Parish and Derek Kumerow will need to work to get off the line.
“We tried to get 1-on-1s with the other corner to stay away from (Harris),” said UW-Stout offensive coordinator Nick Pesik, who was the receivers coach at UW-W the past three seasons. “A corner with long arms who knows his strengths and is strong off the line of scrimmage is always a tough matchup.
“Those guys (UW-Whitewater receivers) are talented and know what they’re doing, though, so it should be interesting to see how it goes.”