The No. 5 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans welcome the
Washington University-St. Louis Bears Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. The Titans enter the contest 9-1, finishing second in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, earning an at-large bid. The Bears were winners of the Southern Athletic Association, going 8-2 and earning their first playoff berth since 2013.
How They Got Here:
The UW-Oshkosh Titans had one of the toughest schedules in the country, and only came up short in one contest, a three-point loss at Wisconsin-Whitewater on October 8. The Titans began the season with a dominating victory over Ohio Athletic Conference powerhouse John Carroll, 33-14, they then put up 68 and 77 in their next two contests. They were 4-0 before falling to Whitewater, then rattled off five straight victories. That included a 22-13 victory over UW-Platteville, who also advanced to the playoffs.
Washington University defeated Carnegie Mellon to start the season, then lost to Centre. The Bears then won five straight games, including a victory over Berry, which became the reason why they were named conference champions, as both teams finished 7-1 in the SAA. A loss to Case Western Reserve was their only conference blemish, but they ended the season with two close victories to finish 8-2.
UW-Oshkosh: 41.2 PPG, 265.1 Rushing/Game, 205.1 Passing/Game, 470.2 Yards/Game
Washington-St. Louis: 39.0 PPG, 131.9 Rushing/Game, 366.9 Passing/Game, 498.8 Yards/Game
UW-Oshkosh: 12.0 PPG, 95.6 Rushing/Game, 164.9 Passing/Game, 260.5 Yards/Game
Washington-St. Louis: 30.9 PPG, 242.6 Rushing/Game, 260.8 Passing/Game, 503.4 Yards/Game
Players to Watch
UW-Oshkosh is led by a crushing ground attack that features two talented running backs in Dylan Hecker and Devon Linzenmeyer. Hecker led the team with 769-yards and 12-TDs, and Linzenmeyer rushed for 589-yards and 7-touchdowns. Junior QB Brett Kasper has been solid all season, passing for 1,797-yards and 13-TDs. He only threw 5-interceptions, and makes good decisions with the ball. Kasper does not have a go to guy, as six different players caught at least 10 passes this season.
The Titans have a great group of linebackers, led by three seniors. Reese Dziedzic led the team with 63-tackles, followed by Steve Forner and Branden Lloyd. Lloyd tied for the team lead in sacks with 2.5. Johnny Eagan made 4-interceptions during the regular season.
The Washington University Bears also have a talented tandem leading their rushing game, with Austin Smestad and Logan Bash combining for 1,244-yards rushing and 13-touchdowns. Smestad had 12 of those. However, it is their prolific passing attack that makes them so dangerous. J.J. Tomlin passed for 3,539-yards and 35-touchdowns. He also completed an outstanding 64.3 percent of his passes, but threw 14-interceptions, a pattern that cannot occur against the Titans. Four receivers had at least 33 catches, led by Kevin Hammarlund, who had 87-receptions for 1,249-yards and 13-touchdowns. Matt Page was second on the team with 62-catches for 866-yards and he made 11-touchdown grabs.
Jake Coon led the Bears with 100-tackles, plus he had 2-sacks and made 4-interceptions. He is a flat out play-maker who can do it all. Josiah Situmeang led the team with 6.5-sacks and Nick Leduc followed closely behind with 4. Ben Marcus also made 4-interceptions
There is no doubt that the Washington University Bears can score, and their passing attack is one of the toughest in the country to try to defend. They are going to have to be awesome in this contest, because UW-Oshkosh has a prolific offense as well and a significantly better defense. Allowing better than 30-points and 500-yards of total offense does not bode well for them and they will find themselves overmatched in this game. Take the Titans 45-24.
By Robert Pannier