Saturday's game at Perkins Stadium in Whitewater, Wisconsin, has all the makings of an old-fashioned classic.
The offenses of both UW-Whitewater and John Carroll pride themselves in establishing a running game. Both defenses hang their hat on grinding opponents' rushing attacks to a halt.
With a spot in the NCAA Division III national semifinals at stake, the Warhawks and Blue Streaks could be headed for a slugfest.
"We're both very similar teams in a lot of ways," UW-Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis said. "We feel very good about our front seven [on defense] and trying to take away the run, and that's ultimately what they try to do [too]. It's going to be a big challenge. Obviously we like running the football, and as well for them. It's two teams that, philosophically, are very similar."
The Blue Streaks rank in the top 25 in the nation in just about ever major defensive statistical category. They're third in total defense (217.5 ypg), sixth in in scoring (12.8 ppg), eighth against the run (70.9 ypg) and 12th against the pass (146.6 ypg).
Whitewater's offense will counter with a rushing offense averaging more than 206 yards per game. And the Warhawks were bolstered this past week by the return of Drew Patterson. Patterson, who eclipsed 1,000 yards in Saturday's victory over Wittenberg, gives UW-W a one-two punch with the emerging Josh Ringelberg, a converted quarterback who has rushed for nearly 300 yards in the first two playoff games.
"It keeps guys fresh that are in there," Bullis said. "But the other part of it is ... is that it makes it a little bit tougher on defenses when there are two different styles of tailbacks. ... It's not as easy as people think to defend that."
UW-Whitewater's defense doesn't boast quite as impressive statistics or national rankings, but the Warhawks have made up for that by forcing turnovers at an impressive rate. They're fouth in the nation with a +1.92 turnover margin per game and lead the country in turnovers forced with 44--including a nation-leading 27 interceptions.
The Blue Streaks boast a 1,000-yard rusher in Ro Golphin. They turn the ball over an average of 1.5 times per game.
"It starts becoming part of your culture," Bullis said of his team's knack for forcing takeaways. "We're constantly saying, 'Take the football away.' ... You're constantly putting it into kids' heads that that's what we do and that's who we are. Kids see the ball get out, and there is one takeaway, there is a bit of a frenzy that, 'Great, let's go do it again.' It gets to be really locked into the kids' minds."
In a battle of mirror-like teams among the final eight standing in Division III, a turnover or two Saturday could make all the difference in determining who moves on to the semifinals.
Gaining notorietyJohn Carroll gained national acclaim when it beat Mount Union 31-28 on Nov. 12. The victory ended the Purple Raiders' 112-game winning streak.
The Blue Streaks were on Bullis' radar long before that upset, however.
"I really kind of started noticing them in the last five, six years," he said. "They're kind of the one team in that conference that gives Mount Union a heck of a football game. Obviously for them, they just couldn't get over that hump, but they were able to do that this year."
UW-W and John Carroll do have a common regular-season opponent this year in UW-Oshkosh.
The Titans handed the Blue Streaks their lone loss of the season, 33-14, in the first game of the year Sept. 3.
The Warhawks beat the Titans 17-14 in Whitewater on Oct. 8.
Saturday's winner could get a rematch with Oshkosh in the national semifinals if the Titans can take down host St. Thomas (Minnesota).
This article is written by Eric Schmoldt from The Janesville Gazette and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.