In keeping with the tradition in recent years, the Little Giants have rolled through their 2015 schedule. The defense has already recorded three shutouts and their smallest margin of victory was a comfortable 24 points. They’ll come into this year’s Bell Game after defeating Denison University 31 points, a team the Tigers defeated by just one point two weeks ago.
Offensively, the Little Giants will come at the Tigers with the ability to beat them through the air and on the ground. Wabash is averaging nearly 255 yards on the ground and over 200 yards passing per game despite playing in nine blowouts so far. They’ve also committed only 10 turnovers on offense.
The Little Giants’ defensive unit has also put together another impressive year. The secondary has allowed almost 160 yards passing per game but that isn’t completely surprising based on the blowouts Wabash has played in. The real strength of the Wabash defense is in stopping the run. Opponents have averaged less than 40 rushing yards per game against the Little Giants. Wabash has also been good at forcing turnovers, with 17 interceptions and eight forced fumbles.
It’s not clear what a loss means for the Little Giants. Without a conference championship, the Little Giants will have to hope for an at-large bid from the NCAA to make the playoffs. A loss to the 8-1 Tigers certainly won’t look terrible to the selection committee but the Little Giants would rather take care of business and win the conference outright.
After the bad loss to Ohio Wesleyan and a narrow victory against Denison the following weekend, the Tigers got back on track, blowing out Oberlin College 53-0 last weekend. Junior quarterback Matt Hunt was very efficient, completing 14 of 17 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. Junior running back Jason Kirchhoff also pitched in with 86 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
The defense also got back on track for the Tigers, as they also recorded their third shutout of the season last weekend. After giving up 27 and 29 points in the two prior weeks, DePauw gave up just 55 rushing yards and 154 passing yards on the day.
The situation for the Tigers has been the same ever since they lost to Ohio Wesleyan University back in October: they’ve needed to win out in order to make the playoffs. With two losses, including one to 4-win Battling Bishops, the chances aren’t good that DePauw would be given an at-large bid. The only real chance the Tigers have to make it into the postseason is to defeat the Little Giants and take the North Coast Athletic Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Wabash Key Players
QB, Connor Rice, Jr.: This is just Rice’s first year under center for the Little Giants, but don’t let his lack of experience fool you. He’s completed over 55 percent of his passes for 1751 yards and has 17 touchdowns compared to just 4 interceptions. This will be his first start in a Monon Bell game, after completing six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in relief of last year’s game.
RB, Mason Zurek Sr.: Zurek was the secondary back for the Little Giants last year, rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown in the 2014 Bell Game. He’s already eclipsed the 1000 yard mark and is averaging 128 yards per game. Zurek also leads Wabash with 15 rushing touchdowns.
LB, Connor Karns, Sr.: Karns has been the Little Giants’ defensive leader this year. He’s sixth on the team in total tackles and second in sacks with 8. Karns has recovered two fumbles and has four quarterback hits as well. He’ll likely be the man Wabash calls on to shutdown the DePauw running game.
Matchup to Watch: Matt Hunt vs. the Wabash Defense
Hunt has been highlighted in this section before for the same reason: big players have to play well in big games. As the same with the game against Wittenberg University, this will be the biggest game Hunt has played in his career. Whether or not the Tigers are able to run the ball against the Wabash defense, the game will still likely come down to Hunt’s performance in the game. He’s had a mixed bag in his first two Monon Bell Games. He threw for 172 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, but completed less than 50 percent of his passes last year for just 111 yards. DePauw will need Hunt to play more like he did in his freshman year if they’ll want to have a chance.
DePauw wins if…
They don’t play scared. I think the Tigers had a legitimate shot to win the bell last year and were just caught off guard by the raucous atmosphere in Crawfordsville. This year, playing at home, they’ll need to calm their nerves and continue to play the same type of game they have all year. The key will be to put something together on their first offensive possession to help get into the flow of the game.
There’s no doubt that Wabash will be the Tigers’ toughest test of the season and it’ll take their best effort to come out with a win. I also think the Tigers are sick of hearing about the losing streak and suffering blowout losses to the Little Giants. This will be Hunt’s third start in a Monon Game and I think gives the Tigers the advantage they need. I think the Tigers will come out and move the ball despite the solid Wabash defense and will be able to silence the Little Giants offense. It’ll be tough, but it’s time for the Bell to come back to Greencastle.
DePauw, 31, Wabash 27.