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Willis Radio: Oct. 22

Rick Willis
Rick Willis

Greetings, football fans. It’s Fall Break, but my parents have a somewhat reliable Internet connection in rural Jasper County, so I’m still tuning in to Wartburg coach Rick Willis’ weekly radio show on KWAY with Terry Goetzinger.

The sixth-ranked Knights (6-0, 3-0) are coming off a 42-9 homecoming victory over Dubuque and host Luther (4-2, 1-2) and its triple option attack this Saturday at 1 p.m.

— As Willis pointed out last week, Dubuque returned a lot from a defense that held Wartburg to 210 yards (4.4 per play) and 22 points last season. This year, Wartburg gained 326 yards (5.2 per play) and scored 42 points.

— Brandon Domeyer’s 54-yard touchdown run less than a minute into the third quarter allowed the Knights to start pulling away, taking a 27-9 lead. I think that was the play of the game. Willis and Goetzinger agree this could have turned into a slugfest had the Spartans scored first in the second half.

— Willis tips his hat to the UD coaches for the fake-punt call in the first quarter. Mitch Michaelis ran 26 yards for a first down on UD’s only scoring drive of the game. That tied the game at seven at the time. Michaelis also pinned Wartburg at the goal line in the second quarter and that led to a safety when Wartburg punter Grant Zimmerman inadvertently stepped out of bounds.

— Goetzinger says Walston-Hoover was as full as he’s seen it in a few years. I thought that, too. The official attendance was 3,540. That seems low, but I don’t really know how they figure that.

— Offense wasn’t especially crisp in the first half. QB Logan Schrader and WR Taylor Jacobsmeier couldn’t hook up on some explosive plays they normally do. Willis says they ended up with 6-7 explosive plays, around three short of their season average.

Part of that is due to the Dubuque defense, which features a lot of speed and athleticism. One of the best Wartburg will face this year (and it still scored 42 points — wow).

Schrader wasn’t 100 percent Saturday, nursing somewhat of a foot injury. Willis said he showed toughness and grit despite not having his best day (11-20, 133 yards, 2 TD, INT).

— Robbie Anstoetter had two more touchdown catches Saturday. He now has five in Iowa Conference play. Willis calls him as dependable as it gets. Good blocker, always in the right spot, catches the ball and is capable of making explosive plays (and he does have speed; he scored twice on screen plays against Central).

— Running the ball well in the second half seems to be a trend for this team, Goetzinger says. Willis: Tribute to the offensive line.

— Pass protection is a big emphasis for Dubuque. Had allowed four sacks coming into Saturday. Wartburg had two despite not bringing a lot of pressure (linebacker Will Janssen said afterward they backed off after hearing UD was expecting them to bring a lot of heat).

— Great performance from the two cornerbacks, Logan Pitz and Spencer Capitani against 6-4 receivers Chris Bagley (nine catches, 80 yards) and all-region pick Tyler Rutenbeck (three catches, 38 yards, TD). Goetzinger thinks teams are throwing away from Capitani. Pitz is tied for the IIAC lead with nine pass breakups. Willis says he’s really progressed this year and is much more confident than as a first-year starter last season. Capitani was on Rutenbeck all day.

Dubuque had success with the quick sideline fade, throwing to Bagley’s back shoulder. Otherwise, the Knights pretty much shut it down.

— Special teams were shaky. Zimmerman had the safety. Michael Bohlke missed an extra point. Willis called Jason Lizalek’s kickoffs erratic. But, he has confidence in all three. Good players, just had an off day.

OK, on to Luther. Wartburg has won 22 of the last 23 football meetings against its rival school. The Knights have scored exactly 24 points against the Norse each of the last five years. That would be a season-low this year.

— Much improved team from last year (2-8, 1-6) in Aaron Hafner’s second year at the helm. Willis: Josh Vos (77 carries, 611 yards, 8 TD) and QB JJ Sirios (128 carries, 630 yards, 6 TD) are really good, knowledgeable fits for the triple option.

Guys will have to do a good job adapting, adjusting. Comes down to great discipline. What are your assignments? Trust each other to do their job.

— Luther obviously doesn’t pass much (Sirios is 13-of-24 for 325 yards and four touchdowns for the season), so the Norse are able to allocate a lot of that practice time to blocking. Look for a lot of cut blocks. They’re very solid with technique. Key for Wartburg will to defeat those blocks and to get guys around the ball.

— Young team on defense, which has showed up recently (47-7 loss to Central, 48-41 loss to Buena Vista).

— Willis: We should be better prepared this year, but it’s a double-edge sword. It will be interesting to see what adjustments each team makes in the second year with Luther’s new staff and with a game on video. Could be an important component in the game.

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