Football Preview: Denison at #15 Wittenberg Sept. 30

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The Setup:  Denison and Wittenberg bring 3-0 records into Saturday night's clash at Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield, Ohio.  The Big Red have defeated Southwestern (Texas), Allegheny and Oberlin to start the season while the Tigers have dispatched Westminster (Pa.), Oberlin and Kenyon.  This is the 79th meeting between Denison and Wittenberg on the gridiron.  The Tigers hold a 52-24-2 lead in the all-time series which dates back to 1901.

How to Watch:  The game will be played under the lights at Edwards-Maurer Field on the campus of Wittenberg University. For directions and parking information, click here. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children and senior citizens.  If you can't make it to Springfield, Wittenberg will provide a live video stream of the game.

The Rankings:  Wittenberg checks into the game ranked No. 13 in the most recent AFCA Division III Coaches top-25 poll.  They are ranked No. 15 in the latest D3Football.com top-25 poll.  Denison is listed in the "others receiving votes" section of both polls.

Lay it on the Line:  There is no need to remind these two teams that plenty is on the line on Saturday night.  Last year, the Big Red defeated Wittenberg, 24-21 thanks to a 33-yard field goal by Conor Dunn with 21 seconds remaining.  That ended up being Wittenberg's only regular season defeat.  It was also Denison's first win over Wittenberg since 1989.

I Miss Mayberry:  Ladies, put on your poodle skirts and gentlemen grease back that hair and fire up the hot-rod.  We're taking a trip back in time to 1952.  Why do you ask?  We went back through the Big Red archives and that happens to be the last time a Denison football team won in Springfield.  DU won that game over the "Lutherans" from Wittenberg, 35-28 behind a stellar performance from Davey Maurer.  Maurer was an All-Ohio Conference quarterback for the Big Red and was inducted into the Varsity D Association Hall of Fame in 1975.  Coincidently, the MAURER in Wittenberg's Edwards-Maurer Field is named for that very same Davey Maurer from Denison.  After graduating from DU in 1954, he went on to become the head coach at Wittenberg where he guided the Tigers for 15 seasons, winning two national championships and amassing a career record of 129-23-3.  Maurer is a member of the National College Football Hall of Fame.

Rewriting History:  While we're on the topic of history, let's not forget that a 78-year old record was surpassed in last week's Denison victory over Oberlin.  In 1938, Bud Giffin set the Denison single-game record with five touchdown passes.  Since then, three others matched that record until Canaan Gebele's six touchdown passes against the Yeomen erased the other four from the record books.

Dueling QBs:  The quarterback matchup features two junior starters both returning from starting roles in last season, in Canaan Gebele for the Big Red and Jake Kennedy for Wittenberg. Gebele has had a terrific start to his junior season, completing 75 of his 109 passing attempts for 969 yards and 10 touchdowns. Through three starts, Kennedy is 44-85 through the air for 718 yards, with 5 TD and 2 INT. An established pocket passer, Kennedy differs in style from Gebele, whose dual-threat ability has shown in his 308 yards and 5 TD on the ground.

Something's Gotta Give:  The Big Red boasts the No. 2 ranked offense in Division III and they will go up against a Wittenberg defense that allows just 8.3 points per game, seventh-best in the country and tops in the NCAC. With a physical, potentially low-scoring battle expected between these two teams, the turnover battle will be paramount in determining who leaves the weekend 4-0. Both teams average a +1.33 turnover margin, tied for the NCAC lead with Hiram.

The Coaches:  Denison head coach Jack Hatem is in his eighth season leading the Big Red.  He has totaled a career record of 44-29 (.603).  Hatem ranks third in Denison football history in wins and was named the NCAC Coach of the Year in 2016.  Wittenberg head coach Joe Fincham is in his 22nd year coaching the Tigers.  He has a career record of 194-43 and has guided his squads to 12 conference titles.

Rating Well:  Canaan Gebele has posted some eye-popping stats through the first three games of the 2017 season; completing 75-of-109 for 969 yards, 10 touchdowns, and no interceptions.  That's a 173.8 efficiency rating.  Since no one really understands college QB efficiency ratings, if Gebele were in the NFL that would equate to a 127.0 quarterback rating.  Aaron Rodgers' 122.5 QB rating in 2011 is the highest in league history.

Running Back Attack:  Denison's running backs are used in a multitude of ways and Jack Hatem has an impressive stable to choose from.  Cody Farley leads all backs with 209 yards and 12.3 yards per carry.  Alex Minton follows at 199 yards.  Joshua Shackleford and freshman Hunter Biddle have also made impacts on the ground and through the air.

Winans (Cheese) Crowd:  Senior safety Brice Winans has been the stabilizing force in the back of the Big Red defense in 2017.  He leads the team with 9.0 tackles per game and has one interception and one forced fumble on the year.

Grab a Vine:  Take a look down Denison's depth chart and the lone freshman starter is Peyton Vining at cornerback.  A product of Bradenton, Florida, Vining has recorded one interception and eight tackles in three games.

Impact Players:  In last year's 24-21 win over Wittenberg, Gebele accounted for 456 yards of total offense, passing for 375 yards while rushing for 81.  David Weimar led all receivers with nine grabs for 154 yards.  Charlie Mueller followed with seven receptions for 87 yards.

In the Zone:  Denison remains perfect in the red zone in 2017, scoring on all 16 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line.  Fifteen of those trips have resulted in touchdowns.  Wittenberg is scoring at an 87 percent clip inside the red zone, going 13-of-15.  Nine of the Tigers' 15 trips have resulted in touchdowns.

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