The assignment for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater defense sounds simple enough:
Contain Noah Dodd and the odds of a victory in a second-round NCAA Division III playoff game against Wartburg College will greatly increase.
Accomplishing that task will likely be easier said than done.
Dodd has showcased his skills as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in DIII by throwing for 1,961 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushing for 388 yards and eight more scores heading into Saturday’s noon game against the Warhawks at Perkins Stadium.
“He’s a very athletic guy, extremely athletic, runs the ball well, and they definitely try to highlight that,” UW-Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis said. “Especially they’re going to keep the ball in his hands when situations are tight. He’s very productive.
“We’ve really got to be able to minimize the damage he does running the ball. I think that’s going to be a key piece, and not give up long passes.”
Wartburg averages more than 455 yards of offense per game, ranking No. 22 in Division III. The Knights rank 10th nationally in scoring at 46 points per game.
Dodd is coming off a game where he threw for four touchdowns and ran for another in a 41-3 first-round victory over Hope.
The senior from Janesville, Iowa, has posted 12 passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns in his past three games.
Bullis said slowing down such an offense, and its prolific quarterback, will come down to players trusting their assignments.
“It’s all about … staying sound, staying balanced with your pass rush. If we’re in zone coverage, the linebackers not getting too deep but not playing too shallow, either,” Bullis said. “It’s ultimately all about being sound and being disciplined to your job and your responsibility with that type of guy. He throws well on the run, as well.
“A lot of quarterbacks, if you can push them out of the pocket, they’re going to have a hard time completing a pass. With him, he seems to rather enjoy getting pushed out of the pocket.”
The Warhawks and Knights meet for the third time Saturday, with all three games coming in the D-III playoffs.
In 2014, Whitewater won 37-33 in the national quarterfinals. It trailed 33-16 entering the fourth quarter but scored 21 consecutive points. Quarterback Matt Behrendt threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns, including 149 and 1 to current Green Bay Packers receiver Jake Kumerow.
“On that Sunday prior to the game, Coach (Lance) Leipold had announced he was going to (University at) Buffalo,” Bullis recalled. “So, just from the beginning, we had a lot of distractions happening. I’m not saying that as a criticism, it was just what it was. It was the hand we were dealt.
“It added a sense of finality to what was happening. … We felt distracted going into that game. The beautiful part that really stuck to me in that game was just the mental toughness of our players. … We were down by 17 and the players just locked it in and showed a great sense of mental toughness.”