Coaching changes and the Semifinals
by, 12-08-2016 at 11:18 PM (2597 Views)
It’s been an eventful week since the last MIAA blog, as three conference teams were in action in postseason games, one of those teams will be playing in the National Semifinals, and the two open head coaching positions have been filled. As if that wasn’t enough to write about, another bombshell hit the MIAA (and D2) landscape when rumors surfaced that NWMSU Head Coach Adam Dorrel has been offered and has accepted the same position at NCAA FCS Abilene Christian University. Now, it is very important to note that none of the rumors has been substantiated at the time of this writing, but I will address them and the potential ramifications of the move should it prove to be true. First, though, let’s take a look at what happened on the field last week.
Mineral Water Bowl
Bemidji State 36
The Ichabod defense had a great first quarter, forcing two three and outs and two Jordan Hein turnovers on Bemidji’s first four possessions to overcome a Derek McGinnis interception and go into the second quarter up 10-0. They couldn’t quite keep it going, and even though they forced a second Hein fumble, the Washburn offense also turned the ball over twice in the quarter and the team found themselves down 13-10 at the break. The offenses of both teams had a bit more success in the third quarter, and the ‘Bods had it all tied up at 20 about halfway through the third quarter. Unfortunately for Ichabod followers, Hein needed just one play on the ensuing possession to regain the lead, and the Beavers never trailed again. The Ichabod offense could only manage 4 first downs after Hein’s 50 yard touchdown pass, and the defense, simply ran out of gas. Both teams had 4 turnovers on the game, but the Ichabod offense was outgained 522-353, as the Beavers’ balanced attack got 261 yards in both their passing game and their running game. Washburn finished the year with a 7-5 record.
C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl
Fort Hays State 45
Eastern New Mexico 12
If you look at the box score, you’d almost think that the scores must have been switched. The Greyhounds triple option offense rushed for 319 yards, lost only one fumble, and they passed for another 89 yards with no interceptions to outgain the Tigers 408-402. However, even though they only lost one of them, the Greyhounds fumbled the ball six times, and they were also hurt by a staggering 226 yards on 21 penalties. Meanwhile, the Tiger offense was balanced and averaged 6.8 yards per rush on the day, establishing a big 35-9 lead at halftime that essentially put the game away. Shaq Cooper finished with 146 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 11 carries (an average of 13.3 yards per rush), and also added two catches for 66 yards and another touchdown. Jacob Mezera was 15-26 for 199 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions to help the Tigers win their first postseason victory in school history (0-1 in NAIA playoffs, 0-2 in NCAA playoffs, and 0-1 in bowls before this year).
Super Region 3 Final
Northwest Missouri State 35
These two teams met in the 2012 playoffs and, in a weird twist of fate, played to the exact same score. The big difference this year, however, was the complete domination executed by the Bearcat defense. While they couldn’t cross the goal line in 2012, Harding did rush for well over 300 yards that day. As I pointed out before the game, the 2012 Bearcat defense gave up about 140 yards per game on the ground, and it has been clear ever since that year how much better the defense has been, especially against the run. Fast forward four years, and the Bearcats held the nation’s leading rushing team (averaging 381.5 rushing yards per game going into the quarterfinals) to 119 yards and a 2.8 ypc average. The longest Bison run on the day was a well executed 36 yard reverse in the third quarter, and was one of the four first downs that Harding made on the day. In their first two games, the Bisons had some success, but went 0-6 in passing on the day, with two of those passes picked off. The lone bright spot of the day for the visiting team was the play of their defense, which forced three red zone field goals and another just outside the red zone. Simon Mathieson broke the school record by kicking five field goals in the game, and Jordan Grove scored all three Northwest touchdowns in the game, opening the scoring on a 58 yard TD reception and then scoring two 1 yard TDs from the “Bobbycat” formation. The Bearcats advanced to the semifinals for the 11th time in their history, while Harding finished their best season in school history with a 13-1 record.
Coaching changes in the MIAA
After the conclusion of the regular season, two MIAA coaches were relieved of their duties, and the two were the longest tenured coaches in the league. Patrick Ross was let go from Lindenwood, and Jerry Partridge, who has the third most wins in MIAA history, will not be running the Griffon program for the first time in 20 years next season. Jed Stugart, who led Sioux Falls to an undefeated regular season, the NSIC conference championship, and the school’s first NCAA playoff win this past season, interviewed for both jobs and ultimately took the job at Lindenwood. It appears that he will be bringing most of his USF staff with him, although there is some uncertainty at the defensive coordinator position, since Tremaine Jackson interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at West Texas A&M. Stugart took perennial power USF to the 2010 NAIA championship game his first year, and led the Cougars to a very successful transition from the NAIA to NCAA, which was something Ross had not been able to do during the same time frame, despite Lindenwood providing better resources than what USF could.
Meanwhile in St. Joseph, Partridge ended up being replaced by one of his former players and coaches in Matt Williamson, who most recently was the Defensive Coordinator at FCS Stephen F. Austin. Williamson becomes the sixth head coach in Griffon history, and has to be licking his chops after seeing the upgrades the program has made since the last time he roamed the sidelines. He has been a successful DC at the FCS level, and it will be interesting to see how well he can run the whole show. At the very least, I expect the Griffons to continue to be a strong defensive unit overall and I think he’ll show that this past year was an aberration on that side of the ball.
If I were to compare these two hires using baseball terms, I would say that the Griffons hit a ground rule double, as Williamson has been away from the MIAA during its rise to one of the premier conferences in Division II. The fact that this will be his first head coaching gig and will be replacing the man who built the program into what it is today gives me slight pause. However, the foundation that Partridge laid is already there, and Williamson may just provide the spark that ignites the Griffons rise back to the top of the MIAA and possibly beyond. Meanwhile, it appears the Lions hit a hard triple and are trying to stretch it into an inside the park home run, depending on the status of Jackson. Stugart has already been a successful head coach at another private school, and now will have more resources at his disposal in St. Charles. The biggest question regarding Stugart is if he can build a program. At USF, he inherited a program that went 67-3 and won three NAIA titles in the previous five years before he took over. Compare that to Lindenwood, who has gone 19-35 with one winning season in the past five years.
Those two hires could very well change the current landscape of the MIAA, but it could be argued that the aforementioned rumors concerning NWMSU HC Adam Dorrel going to ACU could have a much more immediate change. All Dorrell has done is go 74-8 in his six seasons as head coach, and is looking to win his third National Championship in that time frame. If he is successful, he would join legends Bobby Wallace and his predecessor Mel Tjeerdsma as the only coaches with three D2 titles, and not only would he would be the fastest one to do it, he would also be the only coach with three 15-0 seasons under his belt. Even if the Bearcats get beat by Ferris or lose in Kansas City, Dorrel’s record speaks for itself, and he has clearly earned the right to “move up.”
Still, the timing of the whole thing is largely terrible, as the rumors came out while the Bearcats are still preparing for a semifinal game, and if they win Saturday, a National Championship game after that. Again, there has been absolutely no official word, and the rumors were started by an anonymous internet source, so it is possible that the whole situation is completely moot. But with this much smoke, there almost has to be a fire somewhere, and I would have to think there is at least some truth to the rumor. Even if no offer has been made, I would assume he has at least interviewed. If he does in fact get the job, where does that leave the Bearcats? Would he take his staff with him (a la Stugart) or will they stay and try to further the Bearcat culture? I think the best case scenario for Bearcat Nation if he departs would probably be the promotion of Rich Wright to Head Coach, as his defenses the past 4 years have been the key driver to the Bearcats’ 53-2 record the past four seasons. Still, the entire staff is quite young, relatively speaking, and it’s possible they could all have dreams of coaching among the Division I ranks. Then again, who knows? Maybe it is all a leveraging ploy to secure a pay raise for Dorrel and his staff (even though I believe the compensation of the coaching staff at NWMSU is more than competitive with those around the league). Regardless, the rest of the NWMSU season has gotten even more interesting.
#14 Ferris State (12-2) at #1 Northwest Missouri State (13-0) 2:30PM
For the second straight year, the Bearcats will face an opponent for the first time ever in the National Semifinal. Last year, the Bearcats played West Georgia in Maryville, and this year they will face off against the Bulldogs of Ferris State (MI), again in Maryville. Ferris advanced to this game by avenging a regular season loss to their arch rival Grand Valley State at Lubbers Stadium. It is their second trip to the semifinals and first since the 1995 season, when they lost to eventual National Champion North Alabama. They will be looking to knock off the Bearcats and, if they are successful, have a 50/50 shot of playing UNA again in Kansas City for the National Championship. Meanwhile, the Bearcats are looking for their 10th trip to the National Championship game, which would extend their own record.
Ferris comes into the game allowing an average of 364 yards per game, which ranks 65th in D2. They rank 20th against the run (allowing about 100 yards per game), but 135th in passing yards allowed (260ypg). They do rank 53rd in pass efficiency defense, and have 20 intercetptions (t-12th) and 41 sacks (25th), so while they have given up some yardage this year, they have not made it easy. They are also decent on third down, only allowing opponents to convert on 36.8% of third down attempts (t-67th). The Bulldogs allow 22.7 points a game, ranking 44th in the country in that metric. The key player for Ferris is Zach Seiler, who has 18.5 sacks on the year, good for 3rd in the nation. They will try to slow down the nations #2 scoring offense (47.5ppg) and #14 total offense in D2. The Bearcats are pretty good on 3rd down, ranking 20th in the country, but that number has gone down significantly since leading WR Shawn Bane was lost for the season in Week 10. Still, the Bearcats lead the country in Red Zone scoring, failing to score on just three of their 69 red zone appearances. The Bearcats may not have the flashiest offense that the Bulldogs have seen all season, but it’s more than possible that this will be the most efficient offense they have seen all year. Kyle Zimmerman is second in the nation in passing efficiency, throwing just 3 interceptions all year, and the Bearcats will look to keep executing their creative running game, in spite of the fact that Ferris is very good at stopping their opponents’ rush offense.
Again, I don’t know if the Bearcat offense is the best one that Ferris will see this year, but I can unequivocally guarantee that the Bearcat defense will be the best defense the Bulldogs have seen this year. Conversely, the Bulldogs will likely bring the best offense that Northwest has seen this year (12th overall). Once again, the Bearcats have the nation’s best defense, taking over the top spot from Harding after their game last week. The Bulldogs have the ninth ranked rushing attack at 264 yards per game, while the Bearcats happen to be the best at stuffing the run, allowing just over 68 yards per game. Ferris runs the spread option, so assignment discipline will once again be a focus for the Bearcat defense. Still, while stopping the run will be the primary focus, Ferris averages 230 yards per game through the air, so that will have to be respected by the defense, too. Ferris has allowed 22 sacks on the year, while the Bearcat defense, like Ferris’s defense, has 41 sacks (albeit in one less game overall, and essentially two, since Harding had just the 6 attempts last week). Again, like most games (and especially playoff games), third down execution will be a key to the game. The Bulldogs are 36th in D2 in 3rd down conversions (43.8%) while Northwest Missouri is 7th in 3rd down defense, allowing conversions just 27% of the time. The Bearcats will look to shut down the run game and force the Ferris QBs to beat them with their arms; the Bulldogs are certainly capable of winning in this fashion, but their chances of winning improve greatly if they can get their running game going. In games of this magnitude, turnovers are often a deciding factor. The Bearcats have been very careful with the football, only turning it over 13 times on the year (ranking 10th in the country). Ferris has turned it over twice that amount (ranking 144th), but at the same time, they have forced 32 turnovers while Northwest has only forced 21. Overall, Northwest is +8 in turnover margin, while Ferris is +6.
Looking at the special teams, Northwest has the superior placekicker, but the Ferris punt team is very, very good. They rank third in net punting, and that is buoyed by their #2 punt return defense on the year. In 14 games, they have allowed only 14 returns, and a scant 16 yards on those returns. If the Bearcat defense is successful in forcing the Bulldogs to punt, Sha’Corey Foster is going to need to make sure he continues catching the ball, because it appears he won’t have much room to run the ball afterwards.
These teams each come from two of the Big 3 conferences in D2 (with the Gulf South Conference being the other), and the game should be a slugfest. Again, one has to wonder if the rumors surrounding Dorrel have been any sort of distraction. If not, then I certainly like the Bearcats’ chances in advancing to their 10th National Championship game. If it has been, Ferris State is certainly good enough to take advantage. Still, the Bearcats have won 28 in a row, and the last 24 of them have all been decided by double digits. That kind of consistency is the result of good coaching, and even if the ACU rumors are causing a distraction, I think the staff at NWMSU is good enough to work through them. I think the Bulldogs likely put up the best fight of anyone on the year, but I see the Bearcats going to KCK for the second straight year.
(Last week: 3-0)
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post below. You can also follow me on Twitter @IanD2FMIAA.