Kevin Bullis is not ready to break out a crystal ball or start a 1-800 line.
UW-Whitewater’s head football coach doesn’t claim to have the ability to see into the future, but he has proven once again he knows his players well.
During preseason discussions, Bullis foreshadowed a breakout season for junior safety Mark McGrath, saying his name was, “a name that people learned a little bit last year and people are going to hear a lot more this year.”
Warhawks fans spent much of this past Saturday at Perkins Stadium with that name ringing through their brains.
In No. 3-ranked UW-W’s 42-7 season-opening victory over Dubuque, all McGrath did was intercept two passes, recover a fumble and block a punt. He was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference defensive player of the week.
“I’m not going to get any points (for being right) or get called the next Nostradamus, by any means,” Bullis said on a conference call Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s nonconference road game against Concordia-Moorhead (Minnesota). “I didn’t anticipate that kind of game. If you would’ve told me two interceptions, I would’ve said, ‘Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me.’ But a blocked punt, a fumble recovery? It’s like, holy buckets.”
McGrath showed that at times a year ago. Bullis said his defensive staff went into fall camp last season believing they had three solid safeties, but they soon realized they actually had four.
“Mark just kept improving so much,” Bullis said. “We couldn’t keep him off the field.”
He wound up intercepting three passes—tied for the team lead—and finished with 36 tackles in 14 games.
In Saturday’s game, he put up a solid season’s worth of statistics for many players by making four game-changing plays—one in each quarter.
His blocked punt gave the Warhawks the ball at the Dubuque 17-yard line and set up a touchdown that gave his team a 13-0 lead in the first quarter.
McGrath’s first interception came in the second quarter, giving the Warhawks the ball at midfield and helping preserve a 21-7 lead at halftime.
He had another interception at midfield in the third quarter, and he set up Whitewater’s fifth touchdown when he recovered a fumble forced by Matt Anderson in the fourth.
Bullis said he and his staff have known about McGrath’s playmaking abilities since they recruited him out of Lisle (Illinois) High School.
“It’s a combination of speed and strength, and it also combines in just his personality,” Bullis said. “That guy has one speed. He plays with great vision.”“He’s a guy we’ll be talking about more. It’s not a fluke what he did. It was obviously exceptional, but that’s the type of player he is.”
Concordia-Minnesota is 0-1 after falling 21-14 in overtime to UW-La Crosse last Saturday.
Concordia scored in the final minute of regulation to force OT. It nearly won despite rushing for just 3.3 yards on 47 carries and completing only 6 of 22 pass attempts.
The Warhawks beat the Cobbers, 24-6, at Perkins Stadium last season but lost to them, 25-17, on Sept. 9, 2017.
“We’ve got our hands full, and we knew that. We didn’t need to see that film to know what we were in for,” Bullis said. “We’ve had a chance to play them twice now … and I guarantee it’ll be a slugfest.”
Assessing the opener
After watching film of UW-W’s season-opening victory, Bullis offered a few key takeaways.
He was pleased with how his offense “came out of the gate fast” but disappointed that the Warhawks left points off the board. Notably, they missed four field goals.
“We had several opportunities in the red zone or closing in on the red zone where we didn’t get points,” he said.
Bullis lauded his group for committing just three penalties, as teams often struggle in that area in the first game.
But he was disappointed the Warhawks gave up two long pass plays.
“That’s way too many,” he said.