Tigers clash on Saturday at Blackstock

Friday, September 26, 2008

DePauw football has built a reputation as a team to be reckoned with in the running game.

It's curious, then, that through two weeks, DePauw quarterback Spud Dick and wide receiver Alex Koors have grabbed the two SCAC offensive player of the week honors.

That might all change on Saturday, though, as the Tigers face another running team in what promises to be a ground war.

"It's going to be a fun challenge because it's that same thing. They're a true running team," DePauw coach Matt Walker said.

DePauw (2-0, 1-0 SCAC) has faced two spread offenses in the first two weeks of the season, but this week they face a more traditional run-first kind of offense.

This kind of game could suit the Tigers well, as they rank No. 4 in the country against the run.

"We match up well against the run," Walker said.

The Sewanee (2-1, 1-0 SCAC) ground game is led by Trey Reliford, who averages 92.0 yards per game and has three touchdowns on the year. As a team, they run for 161.3 yards per game.

For DePauw, the running game has been improving over the first two weeks. In week one, they averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. Last week, that number was up to 3.1.

Walker and staff challenged the offensive line following week one. Their response can be credited with much of the improvement. The coach expects to see more of the same.

"They played a lot better and got back to playing the way we like to play--physical," Walker said. "We ran the ball much better and more consistent play our of the entire unit. That is a veteran group of guys who we really trust and who I have complete confidence in."

Another development in the running game was freshman Jon Ellis' 123 yards in DePauw's 27-14 win at Centre last week. While Ellis' performance was a big highlight, the Tigers are still deep at the running back position. Three guys will still share time in the backfield.

"We are very fortunate to have multiple guys that we trust and that are talented at the running back position," Walker said. "Clearly, though, Jon does some things that are very special for this level. He has very advanced vision for a freshman trying to make the adjustment to the college game. The game is coming to him quicker than it comes to most freshman.

"He is doing a great job, but we are also happy with the play and leadership of Derek Karaszia, and the emergence of Chris Collins as a realistic threat for us," he added.

But with the running game established, DePauw will likely also look to open things up a bit. Dick is leading an attack currently ranked 15th in the country in passing offense.

The trick for DPU will be playing against a Sewanee team that intercepted seven passes last week. They also face the challenge of playing without Koors, who broke his toe in the midst of last week's 8-catch 220-yard performance. Fellow receivers Bryan Mulligan and Brayden Dahlstrom are dealing with injuries of their own.

"The nice thing is that it really does not change our approach to a game, because even with those guys healthy, it is never a secret that we always try and establish our running game," Walker said. "But, I would be lying if I didn't say that I am hoping we have a big day running the football because of our situation at wide receiver right now."

Local fans could be especially excited if Dahlstrom, a North Putnam grad, can establish himself this week.

"But, with that being said, we still have some big playmakers outside," Walker said. "I look for Brayden Dahlstrom to have a break out day on Saturday. He is a ridiculously talented athlete who gets better every day and is still learning to be a wide receiver (we moved him from QB this spring).

"Other guys like Brad Paus and Chris Gasbarra will pick up the slack with Koors and Mulligan doubtful for the game," he added. "And, it's a great time to have that veteran offensive line to step up and take over."

An added challenge to the Sewanee matchup this year is their improvement. They have already doubled their win output from last year's 1-8 campaign.

"It's going to be a fun one. They're playing with a lot of confidence," Walker said.

Fans out on Saturday are likely to see an old-fashioned slugfest, though. DePauw defeated Sewanee on the road last year, 14-10.

In the age of spread offenses, this matchup of Tigers should be fought out on the ground. While it is a different approach than the first two weeks, Walker said the approach is the same--play your game.

"It is completely about going out and continuing to get better at playing your game," Walker said. "The nice thing that we have going for us this week is that both their offensive and defensive schemes match up pretty close to what we are doing as a team. Therefore, we have had great practice this week because our simulation of the Sewanee looks have been great because of the large amount of carryover.

"This always makes you feel very good about your preparation as opposed to some weeks when you are facing a very different style of play and one that your kids do not see that much of in practice, and one that is hard for you to simulate to show your kids in practice," he added.

DePauw hosts Sewanee at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Blackstock Stadium. The game will be carried live on 91.5 WGRE.

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