Simpson’s strategy- the air attack


by David Morain

Simpson College, and all of the Iowa Conference for that matter, is not known for its passing game. Much like a few drops of Tabasco sauce in a bowl of chili, coaches in the IIAC employ only a few passing plays to spice up their otherwise run-orientated playbooks.

However, senior wide receivers Jesse Von Behren, Kyle Peterson, Jeromy Keehn and Ryan Grinstead, as well as strong-armed junior quarterback Mike Donnenwerth, are out to change people’s perceptions of Iowa Conference football… and re-write a few record books while they’re at it.

Carving out a niche for the passing game was not an easy task at Simpson. The running game was firmly established when the four receivers arrived on campus.

“When we came here as freshmen it was a struggle to earn respect,” said Von Behren. “Everything was run orientated. We had to go out of our way to show the coaches that we could make plays.”

Former Head Coach Jim Williams was prone to grinding out a game on the ground, and who could blame him?

During Simpson’s glory days he had All-Americans such as Ricky Gales and Guy Lehman in the backfield. Since the arrival of new Head Coach Jay Niemann from the University of Northern Iowa, the offense has given way to a balanced air attack.

“Coach Niemann brought us some four-receiver sets,” said Donnenwerth. “That gave us a lot more options. Plus we have the personnel to do the things we’re doing.”

“It’s a credit to our coaches the way we adjusted to our strengths,” said Von Behren. “Having deep wide receivers and Donnenwerth, plus injuries to our running backs, it really opened up our offense. We used to run to set up the pass. Now we pass to set up the run.”

The senior corps of receivers seems to feed off each other, building upon one another’s accomplishments in order to get better. One drill in practice pits each receiver against a defensive back in a one-on-one competition for the ball. If the receiver catches it, the offense wins. If he doesn’t, the defense wins.

“It’s a lot of fun competing against each other,” said Keehn. “Someone will say, ‘I caught three catches and you only caught one.’ Stuff like that. It drives you to play better.”

Grinstead agrees. “Those drills can get pretty intense. Sometimes there’s even some tackling going on, and it’s not supposed to be a full contact drill.”

The talented Storm secondary that these wideouts go up against everyday is one of the main reasons why the passing game is so effective. Simpson leads the conference in interceptions, making every one-on-one drill a challenge.

“Going up against them everyday really helps us prepare for a game,” said Von Behren. “Those guys are better than most of the secondaries we’ll face all season.”

If you doubt that going against some of the best defensive backs in the league helps, just look at the results. Donnenwerth is leading the conference in passing yards with 237.2 per game.

To put that in perspective, that’s 31 yards per game more than Iowa quarterback and current Heisman Trophy candidate Brad Banks and only four less than Iowa State quarterback and former Heisman Trophy candidate Seneca Wallace. In fact, his rating of 158.3 would make him the second most efficient quarterback in the nation at the Division I level.

The Storm passing game has produced over 300 yards in two of its last three contests, a testament to the growth of the conference’s top quarterback.

“[Donnenwerth] has matured a lot over the past year,” said Keehn. “This year he seems more comfortable. He’s been in the system for three years now. I see a lot more confidence since last year.”

“Donny really knows the game,” said Von Behren. “He’ll take his five yards instead of heaving it down field. His knowledge of the game sets him apart.”

“He’s a great leader,” said Grinstead. “We voted him captain as a junior. He stays really calm, especially in the huddle. You look at him and you know you can trust him. Plus, he has a really strong arm. He can cut one loose for 60 yards and make it look effortless.”

The Storm struggled a little when it took on IIAC-leading Wartburg. The Knights had the best defense in the league coming into the contest, allowing a paltry 133.1 yards per game. However, the Storm passing attack racked up 233 yards, exactly 100 more than Wartburg usually gives up.

All but Peterson have been together for four years, been through lean years when the offense revolved around the ground game and are finally coming into their own as perhaps the most talented corps of receivers to ever wear the scarlet and gold.

“Right now we don’t think there’s anybody that can stop our passing game,” said Keehn. “We’ve known that. Now we have to prove it.”

The Storm its their last game of the season at home this Saturday against Upper Iowa.