UW-Eau Claire football coach Wesley Beschorner called his team’s fumbles Saturday “self-inflicted wounds.”
UW-Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis said his team’s plus-2 margin in turnovers the difference in his team’s 24-14 home victory.
Turnovers are often the difference in close football games at every level of play, and thus it is no surprise that the No. 3-ranked Warhawks find themselves plus-7 during their 4-0 start to the season—a stretch that includes three games decided by 10 points or less.
“The biggest thing to me that has really jumped out to me is (that) we play our games confidently and we manage our adversity,” Bullis said Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s 2 p.m. Homecoming game against No. 19-ranked UW-Platteville at Perkins Stadium. “I don’t know if I’ve ever not seen a rainy, cold, windy day be a messy game. Our kids managed the adversity, didn’t flinch, got ready for the next snap.
“I think the most important stat of our Eau Claire game … was the plus-2 turnover differential.”
The Warhawks were on their way to a plus-3 mark if not for a fumble late in the game that Bullis blamed on himself as a flub in late-game strategy.
That was UW-W’s lone turnover during a rainy game that saw the Blugolds fumble the ball four times, losing three of them—including two costly cough-ups in the second half.
On Eau Claire’s first possession of the third quarter, Garrett Purdy forced a fumble and Jacob Frey recovered for the Warhawks, who then went 64 yards in seven plays, scoring a touchdown that made it a two-possession game, 16-7.
Mark McGrath forced and recovered a fumble near midfield on Eau Claire’s next possession, and Whitewater turned it into eight points and a 24-7 lead.
Bullis said the soggy conditions only served as further inspiration to his defensive unit.
“Defensively and special teams-wise, you’ve got to be exceptionally ramped up for the opportunity to take the ball away, to get the ball out,” Bullis said. “On Wednesday, our special teams coach, Coach (John) O’Grady said to our punt team, ‘Odds are they will fumble … a punt if they’re looking up into the rain.’
“And it did come out.”
Turnovers were even in UW-W’s 28-20 win at St. Xavier in the Warhawks’ final nonconference game, but they led 14-3 in points off turnovers.
And Whitewater forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes at Concordia Moorhead, going plus-3 in turnover margin in a 20-10 win.
The Warhawks were plus-10 in turnover margin a year ago when they advanced all the way to the NCAA Division III national semifinals. That included a minus-3 in their semifinal loss at Mary Hardin-Baylor.
UW-Platteville has been even greedier when it has come to its 4-0 start to the season. Its defense has intercepted 10 passes and recovered six fumbles, while the offense has thrown just two interceptions and lost four fumbles, good for a plus-10 margin.
Changing it up
Bullis said UW-Platteville’s defense operates mostly out of a three-man front, but the Pioneers will do their best to confuse opponents.
“You’ll see a multiplicity of different looks from them,” Bullis said. “That’s probably where the biggest challenge for us, run game-wise, is, in being able to establish a consistency of running the ball and knowing where they’re at and being able to block them.”
Bullis also noted Platteville’s prowess on special teams.
That includes returner Walter Ollie, who is averaging 28.2 yards per kick return and 8.7 yards per punt return.
“They may be our best opponent when it comes to special teams, year-in and year-out,” Bullis said. “They’re definitely going to try to exploit weaknesses we’ve shown on film.”
UW-Platteville and UW-La Crosse very nearly swapped spots in the D3football.com poll after the Pioneers won the head-to-head meeting 38-20 last week.
Platteville went from unranked to No. 19, while La Crosse went from No. 16 to outside the top 25.