You see all sorts of different teams when you get into the playoffs, especially when it's something like Division II football that is quite the regional sport. The farther you get in the playoffs, the more likely that it's an unfamiliar opponent that your team is preparing to face.
Oftentimes, it's someone your team never plays against during the regular season, and may have never played before in history.
Such is the case Saturday at Malosky Stadium, when UMD hosts Wayne State (Mich.) in the NCAA Division II Super Region Three final. The winner advances to play the champion of Super Region One -- either Winston-Salem State or New Haven -- next weekend, likely on the road.
The Bulldogs won on the road Saturday against Colorado State-Pueblo, and it's not the same kind of game they'll get from the Warriors.
CSU-Pueblo was a smaller, very athletic team that liked to get the ball on the perimeter and let the skill guys make plays with yards after the catch. Their defensive front was geared on speed and not necessarily physicality, and UMD had the edge on both sides of the ball with their bigger and more physical players.
Wayne State has athletes, sure, but it's not necessarily the same kind of football team. The Warriors rely more on their size up front, and there is nothing fancy about the running attack they prefer. Running back Josh Renel is under 200 pounds but only 5-9, while Toney Davis -- who ran for over 300 yards in the road win over St. Cloud State that started their playoff run -- is over 200 pounds, thick, and tough to tackle.
WSU employs some big fellas on the offensive line, including two 300-pounders and a couple guys around 295. Right tackle Will Khoury is 284 and the smallest lineman, at least based on their listed weight.
Quarterback Mickey Mohner has only completed 11 passes in two playoff wins, so the Warriors are clearly relying on their rushing attack. Mohner takes good care of the football, with just six picks in 275 pass attempts. He has 22 touchdown passes.
The keys for UMD's defense will be the play of the front seven, which needs to slow the WSU ground assault, and the secondary has to pay attention to wide receiver Troy Burrell, who has 71 of the Warriors' 157 receptions this season, 51 more catches than anyone else on the team and 58 more receptions than any other wide receiver on the roster.
UMD gets wide receiver DJ Winfield back from a one-year suspension, and while I'm willing to bet he'll play, I don't really know how much we'll see him on the field, outside of kickoff and punt returns. Winfield could provide a spark for a passing offense that has generally struggled during the second half of the season, and give Chase Vogler the deep threat the Bulldogs have lacked for weeks.
Outside of that, though, UMD's recipe for success is similar to Wayne's. Vogler is a much more mobile quarterback than Moehner, who has just 23 rush attempts for minus-32 yards (sacks count as rushing losses, remember). UMD needs Vogler to make good run/pass decisions and accurate throws when called upon. The Bulldogs will use a steady diet of Brian Lucas and Zach Hulce to move the chains on the ground, with Vogler's usual scrambles and designed runs mixed in.
The Bulldogs will also rely on their experience and resourcefulness at various points Saturday. It's been a key to past playoff success, and there's no doubting it will be called on again this weekend. At home in the playoffs, it's hard to imagine that a visiting team that is not clearly more talented than UMD -- as Grand Valley sort of was in 2009 -- is going to pick up the win. The Bulldogs should move on, and then things get really interesting.