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Willis Radio: Oct. 15

Rick Willis
Rick Willis

Greetings again, football fans. Sorry to leave you hanging the last few weeks, but I’m back with notes from Wartburg head football coach Rick Willis’ radio show (every Wednesday from 7:30-8 p.m. on KWAY) after being tied up with other coverage during the last couple shows.

The Knights are coming off an emphatic 43-0 win at Coe — the first time the Kohawks have been shut out in the 26-year history of Clark Field — which snapped a three-game losing skid in the series.

Wartburg (5-0, 2-0) moved up to No. 6 in the polls and hosts Dubuque (2-3, 1-1) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for Homecoming.

UD hasn’t beaten Wartburg since the final game of the 2006 season.

— Host Terry Goetzinger says Saturday was sort of a strange game, in that this matchup has rarely been a blowout over the last few years. Willis says it was as complete of a game in all three phases for all 60 minutes as they’ve played all season.

— Willis notes freshman Brandon Richardson (11 carries, 43 yards, TD) played well in his first meaningful minutes. Coaches had seen that from him in practice, Saturday was the first time they were able to see it in a game, which was a positive sign.

— Brandon Domeyer is averaging 13 carries a game, had 12 rushes for 83 yards Saturday. Willis: Obviously don’t want him getting beat up (try for 15-20 carries a game), so that’s been a positive. He’s been an efficient runner and the running threat has opened things up for explosive passing plays.

— After looking at film, Willis thinks the offense can do a better job finishing plays. There were times when Knights were falling off blocks Saturday. QB Logan Schrader was hit a few more times than he would have liked (five sacks).

— Defense had pressure all day, never allowing either quarterback (starter Josh Rekers or backup Gavin Glenn) to get comfortable. Willis praised defensive coordinator Chris Winter for mixing up coverages throughout the game to further throw off the quarterbacks.

— Wartburg forced two turnovers Saturday, both by defensive tackles (Miguel Lozan recovered a fumble and Chase Kleopfer had an interception). Willis wants the defense to do a better job forcing turnovers. Goetzinger points out the turnover ratio is at minus-1 right now (That shocked me. But really, it shows how talented this team is. Five wins by 17 points or more and turnovers haven’t played a big role). A big focus in the bye week for the defense was forcing turnovers, and it’s still something they’re working on.

— Mixed performance on special teams. Willis: Punter Grant Zimmerman was excellent — five punts for a 45.8-yard average — and the punt coverage was good, too. Kickoff specialist Jason Lizalek has improved tremendously. Had a great day Saturday. Michael Bohlke missed on extra point and the line let up a blocked extra point. Bohlke was 1-for-2 on makeable field goals. That’s five points in a 43-point ballgame, but Willis says that will need to be shored up for close games down the road.

— On Dubuque: Tough non-conference schedule has led to a misleading record (losses to Wis.-La Crosse and Wis.-Platteville of the WIAC). Wartburg-Dubuque has been a tremendous game the last few years (2013: 22-15, 2012: 34-31, 2011: 42-39) and Willis expects a dogfight.

UD brings back most of its defense that gave the Knights fits last year (only 210 total yards). Record doesn’t indicate it, but he thinks UD may be the best team they’ve played since Bethel in Week 2.

— Quarterback Zach Fry is 6-4, 250 pounds. Willis: Don’t see that everyday. He’s a senior that’s paid his dues in the program and is now getting his chance. Good weapons at wide receiver (6-4 Tyler Rutenbeck was all-conference last year and has 498 yards this season).

— Goetzinger: Is the Homecoming distraction narrative played up a little too much? Willis: Probably more distractions during Homecoming week in high school than college. It’s more a distraction for the coaches with all the former players coming back.

— Any surprises in the Iowa Conference? Willis thinks people were probably surprised by Buena Vista’s 2-0 start to the IIAC season after losing two games in the non-conference, but those were to quality opponents (Wis.-Platteville and Concordia-Moorhead). Simpson is 0-2 after a 3-0 start with a win against then-No. 19 Illinois Wesleyan.

Interesting turn of events last week. Wartburg beat Central 35-14, Luther beat Dubuque 28-14 in the IIAC openers. Then, the Norse’s unbeaten season came to a crashing halt with a 47-7 home loss to the Dutch. Willis explains that’s why you cannot get caught up comparing scores as a player. Have to be ready each time out, especially in this league. Coaching staff is always trying to remind players of that. Can’t get comfortable. Though with a group like this that is especially focused and determined on their goals, it’s easier.

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