There’s Alabama vs. Auburn, Texas vs. Oklahoma, Michigan vs. Michigan State, Notre Dame vs. USC, Indiana vs. Purdue, and then DePauw vs. Wabash. After a one-year hiatus, the Monon Bell Classic is back for the 127th time. This year it’s looking to be one of the most exciting matchups in recent memory. DePauw (8-1, 8-0) came into this game red hot and riding an eight-game win streak after clinching their first NCAC title last week. The Little Giants (6-3, 5-3) are stumbling into the showdown having lost three out of their last four games. This matchup displays the two best offenses in the NCAC and one of the best defenses DePauw has seen in years.
How the teams stack up (8 Conf. games)
|Points Per Game||38.4||38.5*|
|Yards Per Game||463.9||501.5*|
|Passing Yards Per Game||297.4||306.6*|
|Rushing Yards Per Game||166.4||194.9|
|Points Allowed Per Game||11.9*||31.0|
|Yards Allowed Per Game||271.0*||409.9|
|Passing Yards Allowed P/G||222.9||279.6|
|Rushing Yards Allowed P/G||48.1*||130.3|
|Forced Turnovers||23 (17 INTs, 6 FUM REC)*||8 (6 INTs, 2 FUM REC)|
*= 1st in the NCAC
Wabash’s Big 3 vs. DePauw’s Top Ranked Defense
Everyone remembers Chase Andries’ game-winning touchdown pass to Gavin Ritter in the 2019 Monon Bell game, but that play was made possible by DePauw’s defense shutting down Wabash’s then-first-year quarterback, Liam Thompson and their touted run game. The Tiger defense held Wabash to just 201 yards of total offense. Thompson only accumulated 129 passing yards and was kept out of the endzone. Two years later, Thompson plus Wabash’s run game and DePauw’s defense have gotten even better since their last matchup. The Wabash QB leads the NCAC in passing yards a game with 306.6 yards a game and is second in passing TDs (22). Wabash’s running back Donavan Synder leads the NCAC in rushing yards a game (98.4). Thompson’s favorite target at wide receiver, Cooper Sullivan, leads the conference in receiving yards a game (89.9). On the other side, The Tigers’ defense has become the most dominant unit in the NCAC and leads the conference in most statistical categories. I don’t believe Wabash will have much success running the ball with Snyder considering it wasn't much of a factor against good run defenses like Wittenberg and Ohio Wesleyan. But this defense does have its slight weaknesses in pass defense and Liam Thompson is a good enough quarterback to expose those flaws. The game where DePauw’s defense looked most vulnerable was week three against Wooster when they surrendered 30 points to the Fighting Scots. Outside of the Butler game, that was the only contest where the defense allowed more than 14 points this season. What made that Wooster offense stand out from the rest of the conference is they had arguably the best QB in the conference, Mateo Renteria, who was able to pick apart DePauw’s secondary. He threw for 355 yards and 4 touchdowns against DePauw’s defense. The Tigers were able to counter the Wooster offense by forcing five turnovers, including two picks on the highly touted quarterback. Without a doubt, that game gave teams a formula to crack down on DePauw’s defense, but it required a high level passing attack. Wabash has had an effective running game with Donivan Snyder leading the NCAC in rushing. But the Little Giants running attack wasn’t very impactful against great rushing defenses like Ohio Wesleyan and Wittenberg. With DePauw having the best rushing defense in the conference, I don’t see Synder and the running game being much of a factor.
The main way Wabash can move the ball effectively will be through Thompson’s arm. He is also a capable runner, which adds another aspect to his game that DePauw will have to respect. He’s the second leading rusher on Wabash with 282 rushing yards and has an impressive seven touchdowns on the ground. With all that said, DePauw’s defense has also gotten better since the Wooster game in terms of pressuring the QB and tightening up their pass defense. After a slow start, DePauw has climbed to forth in the conference in sacks (17), and is second in passing yards allowed (222.9). If the Tigers can get a lot of pressure on Thompson then he could be forced to try and play hero ball and potentially make some bad throws. Last week, Wittenberg executed this plan well as they sacked Thompson three times and intercepted him four times in route to their 35-14 win. If DePauw can force Wabash into some bad turnovers, then the Little Giants will have little hope. The Tigers have feasted on turnovers all year as they lead the conference with 23 total and have five defensive touchdowns which is tied for second in Division III. My overall thought on this matchup is that neither side will be overly dominant. Thompson will be able to move the ball on DePauw but definitely not at ease. I think DePauw’s defense in the end will get the best of Thompson but it should be a fun matchup.
DePauw’s soaring offense vs. Wabash’s struggling defense
The main culprit for Wabash’s late season slump has been their defense. They have given up 28 points or more in six out of eight of their NCAC games this season. Wabash’s defense has put so much pressure on the offense to outscore teams to win and it hasn’t worked against good teams. They have struggled significantly in their pass defense giving up the third most in yards through the air in the conference (279.6). Their run defense is middle of the pack in the conference but was gashed last week against Wittenberg, giving up 222 yards rushing.
On the other hand, DePauw’s offense is in its finest form at the end of the season. The Tigers exploded last week against Oberlin piling up 639 yards of total offense. Even against a highly touted defense like Denison two weeks ago, DePauw was able to rack up 407 yards on the Big Red in a 27 point showing. The scariest thing about this Tiger offense is they can beat teams in multiple ways. They can blow the top off of defenses with relentless deep passes to Jaylon Smith or Trey Shaw or slow the tempo down and run teams over with Gus Baumgartner. DePauw’s passing attack averages almost 300 yards a and the run game collects over 160 yards a game. A pattern I have seen throughout the season is Andries and DePauw’s passing attack as the focal point of the offense to start the contest. Once DePauw gets out to a lead in the second half, Baumgartner and the Tigers offensive line take over and put teams away with the run game. Even if the running game isn’t effective in the first half, they always end up coming alive late in games.
With all that said, I don’t expect DePauw is going to run circles around Wabash’s defense. In fact, I think Wabash’s defense could rise to the occasion and play better than they have these past few weeks. The Monon Bell game can bring out the best in anyone and I believe their defense will make some plays. Wabash has difference makers on the defensive line that can disrupt DePauw’s offense. Senior defensive lineman David Marsh scored Wabash’s only touchdown in the 2019 Monon Bell game when he took a fumble recovery for a score. Defensive end Seth Buresh is arguably the best defensive player on the team this season as he comes into the game with eight sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss this season. DePauw has also been susceptible to getting off to slow starts at times this season. DePauw’s offense struggled to get going against Wooster, Wittenberg, and Ohio Wesleyan where they had to rely on their defense to keep the game close. If Wabash’s defense comes out strong and holds DePauw’s offense early, then it can set up Liam Thompson to jump out to a lead on the Tigers. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if that happens on Saturday, but I also think DePauw’s offense is playing their best football all season and they would have to beat themselves with either penalties or dropped passes to get slowed down. Even if they get off to a slow start, there is no doubt in my mind that the Tigers’ offense will eventually take off later in the game and move the ball at ease on Wabash’s defense.
If you know much about the history of the Monon Bell, special teams have played huge roles in some of the showdowns. Just ask Jordan Havercamp if he played a significant role in DePauw’s 2007 Monon Bell victory. DePauw has an interesting arrangement at the kicking position, but it’s been effective. Sophomore JD Sullivan has solidified the kicking position and has gone 9-11 on field goals this season with a long of 35 yards. Junior Jack Drake takes long field goals for the Tigers and is 2-2 on the year with a long of 45 yards. DePauw also has 2019 Monon Bell legend Jack Brush as a backup. Jacob Hanley for Wabash has had an up and down season as he’s only 4-9 on the year with a long of 41. For punting, senior Danny Wilkinson has been solid for the Tigers as he’s averaging 38.1 yards a punt and has pinned 9 inside the 20. Joey Annee for Wabash is one of the best punters in D3 as he earned preseason all American honors at his position. He averages 42 yards a punt and has pinned 13 inside the 20. Wabash will need all the field position advantages they can get if they want to defeat the Tigers.
Prediction: DePauw: 35, Wabash: 24
I think this game will stay close through the first three quarters and Wabash might even have an early lead at halftime. But I believe DePauw will start to take control late in the third or early in the fourth quarter. The running game will start to break down Wabash’s defense late in the game and a long touchdown drive by DePauw will put the game out of reach for the Little Giants. DePauw simply has too much talent on both sides of the ball for Wabash to overcome. The Tigers get the clean sweep of the NCAC and bring the Monon Bell with them to the NCAA playoffs.