It may have taken longer than in many areas across the country, but pass-happy football has arrived in Wisconsin.
Take a look out the window today and it is pretty clear why teams here like to run the ball. It is simpler than trying to heave it in wind, rain or snow.
But with spread offenses and air raid schemes the flavor of the decade in college football, it was only a matter of time before that mentality arrived in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
And one look at UW-Whitewater’s recent schedule reflects that.
Saturday’s 1 p.m. date with UW-La Crosse will mark the fourth straight week the Warhawks have prepared for one of the top four passing offenses in the league.
“I’ve never seen this,” Warhawks head coach Kevin Bullis said.
“Whether it’s an evolution of the game, an evolution of our conference, a fad, I have no idea. But it’s really interesting.”
When Saturday’s game is over, two of UW-Whitewater’s four most recent opponents will have ranked in the top 13 in Division III football in passing offense. Another is ranked 26th, and the fourth, UW-Stevens Point, has perennially had strong passing attack.
“When I came in the league in 1990, Point was running a lot of spread and no-back stuff, and they were like the only ones,” Bullis said. “Up until the recent history, really, Platteville has been the stud passing attack. To now really have four of them in the league is terribly interesting, when you look at the development of the league over time.”
The Warhawks are coming off a 49-28 victory over UW-River Falls in which they improved to 7-0 on the season and 4-0 in the WIAC. River Falls ranks No. 13 in Division III, averaging 322.9 yards per game. Whitewater’s defense allowed 411 passing yards, but that came on 61 pass attempts and the Warhawks intercepted three of them.
They shut out a Stevens Point team that averages 246 passing yards per game (70th in the nation).
And before that, they held off Platteville 21-14. The Pioneers average 297.7 passing yards (26th nationally) but completed just 19 of 39 passes for 218 yards at Perkins Stadium.
UW-La Crosse ranks highest of them all, at No. 9. The Eagles average 330.7 yards passing per game and 8.39 yards per attempt.
“There’s definite challenges,” Bullis said when asked about facing the league’s top passing teams. “Obviously we’re going to run our packages, our schemes, and keep it simple for our players. But you don’t want to have some predictability, defensively, as well. So you’re riding a fine line.
“Is it an advantage? Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of passing, and coach (Ryan Cortez) can work with his defensive line on getting to the (quarterback), and it’s good for their development. But you don’t want to be predictable.”
For Peete’s sake
UW-W entered the season with three highly talented running backs taking turns in the run game.
But the past two week, the rushing attack has leaned on junior Alex Peete.
He carried the ball 16 times for 114 yards and three touchdowns against Platteville. Ronny Ponick (28 yards) and Jarrod Ware (24) combined for just 12 carries.
Neither Ponick nor Ware played at River Falls, however. Peete rushed 13 times for 107 yards and a score.
Bullis said Ponick and Ware are “progressing really well” from injuries. He does not provide details on any player injuries during the season.
“They’re both managing some things,” Bullis said.
Edmonson up next
Bullis said he and his staff are closely monitoring Peete’s number of carries in an attempt to keep him healthy.
The next back up has been sophomore Jaylon Edmonson. He carried the ball seven times for 14 yards at River Falls and also caught a screen pass and took it 35 yards for a third-quarter touchdown. Edmonson rushed five times for 27 yards and a late touchdown in the shutout of Stevens Point.
“When he came into fall camp his freshman year, we could not believe his coachability,” Bullis said. “It’s a coachability in the sense, if you tell a guy something, he’ll immediately execute it while the bullets are flying in a play. He’s one of those guys.
“He’s a fast learner and a talented young man. On that screen, he made it look so easy. ... He’s a guy that we’ve got to continue to develop and give those opportunities, because when he does (get them) he takes advantage of them.”