Feeding the beasts

More news about: Washington and Jefferson

Jesse Zubik was unstoppable on Saturday, setting records with a 322 yard, six touchdown performance.
Washington & Jefferson athletics photo

By Adam Turer

Make them stop you.

Running an offense essentially boils down to that mantra. If you have a great play in the playbook, run it until the defense proves that they can solve it. If you have an unstoppable player, get the ball in his hands until the defense forces you to go elsewhere with it.  

When I coached fifth and sixth grade football, one of my favorite things to do was to keep calling the same play over and over, until the opposing defense gave us a reason to run something different.

College football is of course more complex, but there is still plenty of validity to the strategy. On Saturday, several teams found success going back to the same well over and over and over again. Keep getting the ball in the same player’s hands, until the defense takes away want you want to do.

Thomas More had no answer for Jesse Zubik. Washington & Jefferson kept going to its star receiver. Zubik delivered with a record-setting day, hauling in 11 passes for 322 yards and six touchdowns. By the fourth quarter, everyone in the stadium should have known that the ball was going Zubik’s way at every possible opportunity.

Zubik was targeted 17 times by quarterback Alex Rowse, who had a record-setting day of his own, passing for 482 yards. This was just Rowse’s third start, and the duo was pulled early in last week’s big victory. In a game of this magnitude, it was no secret that the game plan revolved around their connection.

Rowse targeted Zubik six times in the first quarter. Zubik was targeted just twice in the second quarter. The results? Two catches for 106 yards and two scores. Six more targets, three more touchdowns in the third quarter. He closed the game out by scoring the Presidents’ final touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“Last night, we knew it’s a big game. I felt we were trying to get me the ball and make something happen. Alex’s balls were on the money,” said Zubik. “I know what I’m capable of, I know what our whole team is capable of. I know if I’m not having my best game, other guys will pick us up.”

The Saints rolled a safety over top of Zubik at times. Sometimes, they left him one-on-one with a cornerback. No matter who was lined up over top of him, the receiver felt he had a winnable matchup.

“I feel like the more I get the ball, the more opportunities I get to break the big play,” said Zubik. “In bigger games, we put more emphasis on trying to move me around and get me the ball more.”

It takes an extra level of conditioning for a wide receiver to be the focal point of an offense. When a running back gets stopped, he might run for just a couple of yards. Even on an incomplete pass, Zubik can be sprinting downfield 30 or more yards. He and Rowse regularly worked out together over the summer to prepare for moments like this.

“I tell coach, I don’t care if I have to get the ball 15 or 20 times a game like a running back,” said Zubik. “A lot of conditioning goes into that. That’s all the work that we put in all summer long.”

Zubik wasn’t the only player whose name was called often on Saturday to lead his team to an impressive victory.

UW-Whitewater, in desperate need of a win, may have found a workhorse. Ronny Ponick carried the ball 24 times for 190 yards and a score. Nine of his carries, including his touchdown, came in the fourth quarter.

Andy Hunt and Matt Labus had a big day for DePauw. The Tigers’ duo connected six times for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Labus threw for five scores and rushed for one, putting up 428 yards of total offense.

Brockport’s Jordan Morrison was unstoppable, going up, around, over, and through the St. John Fisher defense. Morrison carried the ball 22 times for 227 yards and three touchdowns, including one of the most impressive and athletic plays of the season. Morrison is averaging over 20 carries per game, all wins, for the Golden Eagles. Until opponents figure out a way to slow him, Brockport is just going to keep feeding him.

Why wouldn’t they?

Lake Forest had a bye this week, and Joey Valdivia surely spent it resting his legs. The nation’s leading rusher has carried the ball 63 times for 516 yards through the Foresters’ first two games.

Framingham State is off to a 3-0 start, thanks in large part to Quron Wright, in addition to an imposing defense that has allowed just 37 points this season. Wright is averaging nearly 26 carries and an even 160 yards per game.

MacMurray is following a similar game plan, with similar results. The Highlanders are 3-0, behind the legs of Chazz Middlebrook. The senior is averaging 33 carries and 244.67 rushing yards per game. He has rushed for 11 touchdowns already.

Springfield keeps feeding Jordan Wilcox, and the Pride keep getting results. Springfield is off to a 3-0 start, and Wilcox has averaged 26 carries and over 159 yards per game.

Find the play or player that can consistently get the job done, moving the chains and finding the end zone. Feed that beast until a defense proves they can stop him. Then, find a more creative way to get the ball in his hands. Or, find a teammate who will step up and relieve some pressure.

The formula is no secret. These teams are going to keep feeding these players. It is up to defensive coordinators and players to figure out a way to put the pressure back on these offenses. Until then, the individual statistics will continue to pile up. More importantly, these teams’ winning streaks should continue.

Questions and Answers

What’s going on in the west?

It’s already been a wild and unpredictable season out west.

Props to George Fox for opening the season against two ranked opponents and nearly coming out of it undefeated. The Bruins opened at UW-Platteville and lost by two on a late field goal. They bounced back by shutting down Redlands in a 13-10 victory. The Bruins host another WIAC opponent, UW-Eau Claire before opening NWC play.

There is only one undefeated team in the NWC, and it’s not perennial conference champ Linfield. The Wildcats lost to non-conference rival Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday. Losing to the defending national champions is nothing to be worried about, but the way the ‘Cats looked is plenty of reason for concern. They managed to score just three points and produce 141 yards of total offense, at home.

Whitworth improved to 3-0, with another dominant victory. The Pirates have outscored opponents 158-23 so far this year. They now get a bye week before a showdown at Linfield on Sept. 30, a game that could end up deciding the conference champion.

Lewis & Clark won for the first time since Oct. 5 2013, snapping a string of three straight winless seasons. Congrats to Jay Locey and his program.

Meanwhile, the big news before the weekend came out of Occidental, as it cancelled its game against Pacific on Thursday night, just 48 hours before the scheduled kickoff.  The Tigers claimed safety concerns due to having just 36 healthy and available players on the roster, following a season-opening 61-6 loss to Puget Sound. But to do that to a visiting opponent like the Boxers, whose team and fans had already made and spent a significant amount of money on travel plans, is bad form. It’s a bad look all around. Players at both schools only have a finite number of opportunities to strap it up with their teammates and play the game they love. From what we’ve heard at D3football.com, there were no Occidental players who were on board with the administration’s decision. It seems shortsighted and extremely unfair to both the Tigers and Boxers. Hopefully, Occidental will be able to play the rest of its schedule. At the very least, if they’re going to cancel any more games--especially home games in which opposing parents and fans have made travel arrangements--I hope they will cancel them with more than two days notice. I can’t imagine anyone on either campus who feels good about this decision or its timing. I feel especially bad for the Tigers seniors, who had one of their final five home games taken away from them.

Pacific Lutheran also had to cancel its home game, but for a much more valid reason. The Lutes' scheduled opponent, Warner University, is located in Lake Wales, Florida. The program had to cancel its first two games of the season in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. The Lutes will now head into Week 4 of the season with just one game under their belts. 

On tap

Here's what to watch for on D3football.com this week.

Later today-- new Top 25 poll released

Monday--Around the Nation podcast with Pat Coleman and Keith McMillan. Also, Play of the Week. Submit nominations today if you haven't already.

Tuesday/Wednesday--Around the Region columns

Thursday--Around the Nation column.

Friday--Quick Hits

Saturday--You know what Saturdays are for.

We've got great content coming at you all week, every week. Follow along and get to know D-III football beyond just your favorite team.

If you have ideas for an upcoming column or just want to talk some D-III football, get at me at @adamturer on Twitter or adam.turer@d3sports.com.

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his third season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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