|This is not pound-the-rock, old-style UW-Whitewater on offense for UW-Oshkosh. But the front line gets its licks in and the running backs get their yardage in bunches.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
By Joe Sager
The uniforms and helmets might look new on Saturday when UW-Oshkosh and St. Thomas in Minnesota. But, the football action has all the markings of an old-school showdown when the two squads clash in a quarterfinal showdown.
The visiting Titans (11-1) bring a productive and varied running attack, while the Tommies (12-0) specialize more in defense and controlling the line of scrimmage. UW-Oshkosh ranks seventh in the nation at 282.8 rushing yards per game, while St. Thomas ranks third in rushing defense (61.9 yards allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (218.7).
So, expect one team’s stats to take a hit when they do battle.
|The last time St. Thomas gave up a touchdown while the result of the game was still in doubt was on Oct. 29 at Bethel, and the Tommies were up 20-0 when it happened.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
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“It’s a big task. Not only do they have talent, but the ways they can run the ball and get their guys to different areas of the field is so dynamic,” St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said. “We pride ourselves on stopping the run. That’s the culture we’ve built with our program. Something will have to give – one or the other – so it’ll be fun to prepare and see what happens.”
UW-Oshkosh has eight players with 100 or more rushing yards on the season. Four different players carried the ball in the team’s 31-14 win over St. John’s last week. The Titans racked up 332 yards on the ground in that triumph.
“Anytime you can run the ball and have success with it, you’re definitely going to be pleased with it,” Titans coach Pat Cerroni said. “I have to give credit to Luke Venne, our offensive coordinator. He has done a phenomenal job getting different guys involved with the injuries we’ve had.”
Of the eight 100-yard rushers, only Dom Todarello has appeared in all 12 games and he’s the team’s leading wide receiver. He has 257 yards on the ground, too.
“Right now, no one is healthy,” Cerroni said. “Who knows who is going to play Saturday?”
Fortunately for UW-Oshkosh, it has depth. Dylan Hecker leads the team with 967 rushing yards. He had 198 yards and three touchdowns last week. Devon Linzenmeyer has 735 yards, while Mitch Gerhartz is next with 456. Chad Walton (311), Todarello, C.J. Blackburn (184), Beau Ash (122) and Rule Kallas (115) are next. In addition, 10 other players have carried the ball for the squad.
“The good thing is the guys only care about the team. One guy could have 200 yards one day and get only three carries the next game,” Cerroni said. “We just never know what we have until we put guys in games. They are all similar in the fact that they care about each other. They are constantly talking on the sideline. I’ve never been around such a talented group of running backs. You worry how it’d play out, but we really have something going on there. They are really determined to support each other. They have that fire burning and they believe in each other. That’s a really good sign. When you have guys who support each other, that’s really the difference.”
Of course, St. Thomas poses a formidable task for the Titans.
“We don’t expect this (extreme rushing success) is going to continue – let’s get serious,” Cerroni said. “I’d say we were pleasantly surprised Saturday to do what we did. We hung in there all game and got it done. It doesn’t get any easier now. We’re very fortunate that it’s been working out. We just have guys with ton of desire.”
Meanwhile, the Tommies feature one of the nation’s top defenses. They’ve limited their last five opponents to seven points or less and haven’t allowed a first-half touchdown since Oct. 29. That was the last time St. Thomas permitted a team and an individual to eclipse the century mark in rushing as well.
“Our entire defense, predominantly the starters, is playing very well. You could see it start to fit together,” Caruso said. “They’re playing with tremendous energy and selflessness. That’s a good recipe for a basis of a defense.”
The Tommies look forward to the challenge of stopping the Titans’ diverse rushing attack.
“Without a doubt, it’s tough to prepare for anyone in the quarterfinals, let alone Oshkosh, who has talent all over the place,” Caruso said. “We’ve been in this situation before with other teams and Oshkosh in the 2012 semifinals. When teams do a good job spreading the ball around, you have to make sure all those areas are covered. There’s no question they want to run the ball and want to do it in a dominant fashion. It goes back to each person performing to the best of his abilities. Even though they’re not a true option attack, they have some elements of it. So, accountability and sacrifice are at a premium for us this week.”
While both teams are well-rounded – UW-Oshkosh has a very good defense and St. Thomas has a strong offense, for instance – they’re sticking with what works best.
“I do think at this time of the year the teams that achieve at that highest of levels are the ones who stay truest and closest to their identities,” Caruso said. “We’ve worked hard on that the better part of the last seven or eight years and it has served us well come playoff time.”