WHITEWATER — To this point, things are going as they’re supposed to for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team.
Kevin Bullis, the fifth-year head coach, believed the Warhawks would face gradually improved teams each week through the first three weeks beginning with Dubuque in Week 1 and Concordia-Moorhead in Week 2.
That escalation will continue with their Week 3 matchup against St. Xavier at Deaton Field in Chicago on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“It’s a nice ramp up,” Bullis said. “We played one of the better teams in the Iowa league, then we played one of the best teams in the (Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Conference) and now we’re taking on an NAIA team that’s very talented.”
St. Xavier (1-0) won the NAIA title in 2011 and has the ability to offer scholarships, which Bullis said serves as an indication of the talent level of the Cougars. The fact that the game will be played in Chicago is another positive as the UW-Whitewater coaching staff spends much of their time in the greater Chicago area recruiting.
“To be overly simplistic, they had an open date and we had an open date,” Bullis said. “I love the location of them. The Chicago area is a recruiting base for us. … It’s a nice travel trip for our players and families and from my perspective for our budget.”
St. Xavier is expected to be the best team the Warhawks have played and they have a variety of improvements to make moving forward.
Pounding the rock
By Warhawks standards, the running game struggled against Concordia-Moorhead. Junior quarterback Zach Oles carried the ball 12 times for 59 yards to lead the rushing attack. As a unit, UW-Whitewater ran the ball 37 times for 145 yards in the 20-10 victory on Saturday.
Oles and the passing game made up for it by gaining 268 yards through the air.
The ability to run the ball is an area of needed progress this week.
“Ultimately, it came down to what we were doing,” Bullis said. “We had some confusion on definitions. We define (defensive) fronts, which each front has its own set of blocking rules. We were misdefining fronts. They had to get that confusion cleaned up.”
The challenge stemmed from the fact that the Cobbers set up in a 3-4 defensive front, but would regularly roll up a linebacker in a defensive end space. That wrinkle impeded the Warhawks from the domination the four-returning starters are accustomed to.
Finding balance on the boundary
The Cobbers were able to make their way down the field by throwing five- to seven-yard hitch routes to the short side of the field. That worked on two separate drives early in the first half, but the Warhawks made an adjustment taking it away by having the cornerback aggressively meet the wide receiver at the line of scrimmage in press coverage instead.
“You have to be careful with that,” Bullis said. “Play great run defense and take away the long pass game. Does that mean we’re going to aimlessly give up the hitch and the short passses into the boundary? No. Ultimately the way we’re going to look at it is that we’re going to stay true to our philosophy, but then we’re going to give our corners tools to work with.”
Yes, Zach Oles played all of the snaps at quarterback. But no, that doesn’t mean the job is entirely his as fellow junior Max Meylor is still in a competition for snaps.
“Oles shows a savviness that we’re pretty excited about,” Bullis said. “Max brings a lot of dynamic things to the field and every day, he’s competing for us. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the quarterback competition is done. It is not done.
“A competition is not done by any means. (offensive coordinator) Peter Jennings will make a decision on how he looks at this coming week as well.”