September 22, 2013

Snap judgments: Week 3

More news about: Mary Hardin-Baylor | St. John-s | UW-Whitewater
St. Thomas' O'Shaughnessy Stadium isn't fancy, but it was definitely full.
St. Thomas athletics photo by Mike Ekern 

The Tommie-Johnnie rivalry is back, Mary Hardin-Baylor has the fanciest stadium in Division III and the most vicious D-line, and pretty much everyone we thought would be 0-3 by now is 3-0.

These are my first, not-all-the-way-thought-through reactions to Saturday's games across D-III in Week 3.

● Maybe this Gary Fasching fella was the right hire for St. John's after all. Drubbed 63-7 and 43-21 by rival St. Thomas the past two years, and passed in recruiting, the Johnnies had lost their luster as an elite program. That they couldn't stay with St. Thomas the past two years had started to turn one of the great D-III rivalries into an afterthought. But Fasching's Johnnies pulled off the 20-18 upset of the No. 2 team in the country, giving him three wins by three points or fewer in his first three games in charge. Two of the wins have come on the road.

Five turnovers for St. Thomas and a missed game-winning field goal attempt tell the story, if you eliminate all context and just look at the box score.

● UMHB opened its "Cruthedral," an on-campus palace that rivals or surpasses the fields at Cortland State, St. Thomas and UW-Whitewater for the largest and most well appointed in D-III. The best fields aren't always the biggest -- Ithaca and Middlebury are scenic, St. John's and Widener and Hampden-Sydney have great natural bowls or surroundings, and there are plenty of neat places to play that aren't giant.

Anyway, the whoopin' No. 4 UMHB put on No. 5 Wesley was more giant than the stadium's grand opening. Maybe the atmosphere gave the Cru a boost, but it can't be responsible for holding Wesley to five first downs through three quarters. This is a Wolverines offense that scored 33 and 30 points on teams that started the season in the top 25 and had a 500-yard passer in Week 1 in Joe Callahan.

It's not always wise to distill a game to a pithy one-liner, but let's just say I'd hate to be in Wesley's offensive line video review session. Yikes. The parts I watched, UMHB was on top of Callahan before he could catch the snap. I'm sure it was a total team effort in Wesley's loss, so I should probably have written that sentence to make it more clear that I'm praising the Cru's defensive line more than knocking Wesley's O-line.

● So with two top five teams going down, North Central I bet moves up to No. 4 and Bethel 5. Fine. But does Mount Union end up at No. 3 when "No. 2" Linfield wallops No. 22 Cal Lutheran, 52-14, and UMHB scores the first 35 points against Wesley. I wouldn't be surprised if the first-place votes were split 9-8-8.

● I'm probably switching my No. 1 vote from Linfield to UMHB. That's mind-boggling, that a team can beat another ranked team by almost 40 and drop. But as I'll probably write later in the week in poll positions, I don't always view polling as a reflection of a single week. But even if it was, No. 4 pounding No. 5 pretty thoroughly ... The only way I can explain it is my opinion of both the Wildcats and Cru grew on Saturday, but I can only put one No. 1. Who wowed more?

● The 3-0 club features Juniata, Olivet and Stevenson, teams for whom three Ws was a season's worth or more the past few seasons. Gallaudet, Hope, and RPI are all in the club as well. RPI and St. John's are 3-0 under new coaches. Pacific is making strides in its fourth season in existence. Hartwick is 3-0, but I'll be more impressed when they beat an Empire 8 team. Merchant Marine. ... There are a bunch of other unbeaten teams, but those are the ones where I'm raising an eyebrow.

● Speaking of unbeaten under new coaches, John Carroll looks as potent under Tom Arth as it did when Tom Arth was under center. Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but 27-7 at Baldwin Wallace is eye catching.

● Husson won! So did Puget Sound! The Eagles' win was ugly -- they gained 210 yards and had four turnovers but beat Alfred State. Whittier was minus-5 in turnovers, including a fumble right after UPS stretched a three-point lead to 10 late in the fourth quarter of a 44-33 win.

● Tufts on the other hand did not win, drubbed 52-9. Without looking, given all the struggling programs who have won so far this year, I'd guess the Jumbos are the national losing streak leader. And they only play eight games a year.

● Emory and Henry's quarterback had a completion percentage like Larry Kehres's win percentage. Something in the .930s ... whatever 29 of 31 comes out to. (Snap judgments = lazy, no math-doing allowed.)

● Coe held the ball for 42:17 of its 10-0 win over Wash U. No wonder the Bears gained just 124 yards.

● Muskingum was 0-of-12 on third and fourth down against Mount Union.

● Castleton State finished with 42 rushing yards ... lost, in a loss against RPI. The Spartans did not win, in case you were wondering.

● You had to know UW-Whitewater was going to pack the whooping stick for its bus ride to Buffalo State. After the Bengals went into Whitewater and stole a win late last year, and we talked about it incessantly and deservedly because it was such a shock at the time ... well, no such doubt this time. It was 31-0 seven seconds into the second quarter. Buffalo State, which was 2-0 and had rolled up 598 yards on Brockport State last week, gained 182.

● UW-Whitewater, oddly laying in the weeds as we talk about other teams at the top. Also Pacific Lutheran looking pretty good with another win over a top West Coast team. This might come as a shock to exactly no one, but the West Region playoff bracket might end up loaded again this year.

● Pretty good defense at Christopher Newport. No Huntingdon on the schedule this year, and I'm not sure any of the USAC teams they do play can stop them. It's way early to be making declarations like that, but snap judgments is pretty much me thinking out loud. A lot of it will end up being wrong. And the world will keep turning.

● Frostburg State scored 3 in Week 1 against Geneva, but they've been Team Shootout since, losing 59-49 to Waynesburg last week and beating Case Western Reserve with a last-second field goal in a 36-33 win this week.

● Speaking of CWRU, after losses to Oberlin and Frostburg, that game with Linfield won't be pretty. Well, playing at Case Field will at least give it a pretty atmosphere.

● Western Connecticut's move to the MASCAC from the NJAC appears to be going well, with the former also-rans now 2-0 after outscoring Nichols and Plymouth State 79-10.

● Berry will go to Rhodes next week still looking for the first points in program history.

● What happened to Williams? Once a mighty NESCAC power, it was waving the white flag against the White Mules, or getting slapped with a white glove. By that I mean Colby beat them 31-8.

● The CCIW is a mere 11-7 in non-conference play so far. Meantime, every MIAA team is 3-0 or 2-1 (non-conference 15-6) except for Alma, which somehow managed to let a 20-point lead slip away in a 21-20 home loss to Lakeland. And top-10 UW-Oshkosh awaits.

● Ohio Wesleyan is 2-0, and has won 14 of 15 as a program, but they won't get any traction in the poll unless they win at Wabash Oct. 12. Everything else is "nice, but ..."

● Huntingdon went 99 yards on 10 plays with the game tied in the fourth quarter to beat Louisiana College, 34-27. That's got to be the most satisfying way for an offense to win a game.

● You have never appreciated a canned halftime show so fully until you've listened to a D-III broadcast team leave their mikes open during the half.

● I enjoy taking video tours of D-III teams coast to coast. I saw the Bethany sideline reporter stand in the rain with an umbrella to get Coach Garvey before the half, and the band hit us with some Jackson 5. Then, mesmerized by the background on the Bates campus, I watched the Bobcats and Trinity turn it over to each other on three consecutive plays. And so on. Point being, the access to video in D-III is so widespread now that you can drop in on games basically anywhere and see something unexpected or occasionally off the wall. And sometimes D-IIIs low-budgetness is its charm. Like at Juniata, as they were closing out the victory, they also had to close the window in front of the video camera. So the final moments were with rain droplets on the screen, and even though I was comfortable at home, it kinda made me feel like I was there.

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