September 26th, 2019 11:00am
To give full disclosure to my readers, I’m very limited on time this week and many of the upcoming weeks, so my content will brief compared to years past. In the process of coaching youth sports, moving into a new home, and regular job have me with very little ‘me time’, so I just wanted to be candid here.
Thursday - September 26
Augustana (2-1) at Sioux Falls (2-1)
Heading into the season the Cougars were expecting Gabe Watson to be a top ball-carrier nationally, for Hakeem Johnson to be the top corner in the league, and for Ty Smith to be the squad’s top wideout. After three weeks, Johnson and Smith are out for the season due to injury while Watson might not be back until mid-year. Yet the Cougars are 2-1 and have performed surprisingly well in overcoming those key setbacks.
Thuro Reisdorfer has been tasked with being the primary back to replace the carries and production of Watson, and he’s done an admirable job with a physical running style that’s led to 287 yards and a conference leading 6 scores. Reisdorfer trails only Mankato’s Nate Gunn in rushing yards in the Northern Sun. The Cougars ability to effectively run the football coupled with strong defensive play has allowed them to stay the course after a poor start in the season opening setback at Concordia.
Augustana looked like barbarians at the gate heading into Mankato but the offense has since struggled to show consistent execution. A week ago, most assumed the Vikings would thump Wayne State, but instead they found themselves trailing the Wildcats 13-3 at half and far behind on the yardage front as well. Augie found its stride after intermission and rolled 26-13 as QB Kyle Saddler was finally able to find his targets down the field in the comeback win. However, the performance created some concerns with how dependable this offense truly is.
The weight of the Viking offense is heavily on QB Kyle Saddler since the running game sputtered each of the last two weeks. Personally, I think Augie misses what injured Braiden Petersen offered out of the backfield. I like Rudy Sinflorant as a main ball-carrier, but Petersen stretched the defense with his speed and ability to make plays in space.
The Augie D has been up and down as well during this last two games. In the first half at Mankato and the back half of Wayne, the Vikings D played very well. In the other four quarters, not so much. I tend to think the Viking D is a little better than a year ago but it’s hard to make that call after just three games.
I feel I know better who USF is after three games than I do Augustana. The ceiling for the Vikings offense is high, which gives them knockout potential. The last few years their defense has left them open to take shots from good offenses. Is USF a good offense? Hard to say, but they seem to be getting more comfortable as a unit with each passing week, along with improved play from signal-caller Caden Walters. I think the quarterback play here determines the winner, and thus far Walters has been more careful with the decisions he’s made while also becoming a weapon in the Cougars offense as a runner. I’m taking USF to keep the Key to the City on Thursday night at The Bob.
Saturday - September 28
Minot State (1-2) at Minnesota-Crookston (0-3)
Crookston played Bemidji State fairly close (for a half) a week ago on a muddy field grass field, but I felt like those conditions made the game much slower and less explosive for a team like BSU. On a dry field, I think it’s a one-sided contest. That said, it should give the Golden Eagles a shot in the arm in terms of confidence.
Minot State was down a few scores to Mary in the first half but battled back to win 34-29. Ali Mohammed ran for 85 yards and a score, while QB Ben Bolinske had one of his better games throwing for three touchdowns. Wideout Lavante Bushnell might be the top receiver not many people know about. Bushnell caught 7 balls for 109 yards and also found the end zone. The big 3 of the Minot offense should offer the Beavers the needed weapons to beat the lower teams in the conference while also competing with North Division squads not named UMD or Bemidji State.
Minot State 34-13
Mary (0-3) at Minnesota State-Moorhead (2-1)
A week ago Mary looked poised to beat Minot State but struggled in the second half and remains without a win on the ’19 campaign. Logan Nelson made some plays at quarterback, rushing for 149 yards and 3 scores and passing for 210 yards and a TD. Danny Kittner stepped up for the Marauders as he grabbed 5 balls for 167 yards and a touchdown. However, the Mary defense couldn’t keep Minot in check as the Beavers outscored Mary 20-7 down the stretch.
Moorhead escaped in Aberdeen with a late score by star wideout Grady Bresnahan from the arm of replacement quarterback Matthew Plasterer. Dragons starting quarterback Jakob Sinani has shown he can be a top performer but has fought injury a few times already in his young college career. Against Northern, the redshirt freshman Plasterer stepped in and threw for 265 yards and 2 scores to notch the W. Coach Laqua must be encouraged with this performance, seeing as Sinani could miss a few weeks with a lower leg injury.
While MSUM hasn’t found a running game yet, the aerial attack has gotten them by and I expect Plasterer will find enough success in relief of Sinani to get another win this weekend.
Winona State (2-1) at Minnesota State-Mankato (3-0)
Winona State rebounded week three against UIU, shutting out the Peacocks 28-0. The Warriors offense got the job done while looking just good, not great. The WSU offense hasn’t looked as explosive as I’d expected and the defense is a cause for concern as well. Not because of how they played against the lower teams in the conference, but instead how USF moved the ball.
Mankato had an outstanding defensive effort a week ago against Concordia and really made the upstart Bears look like a bottom team. MSU held CSP to 134 yards total offense and just 8 first downs. The Mavs just missed a shutout, allowing a late field goal.
Kato looks to be hitting its stride through the offense isn’t looking at optimum performance just yet. The Mavs appear to be working on the passing game and incorporating more guys in the rushing attack. Justin Taormina got 18 touches between the run and pass, and his ability to share the workload with Nate Gunn will allow the Mavs to keep Gunn fresher for big games going forward.
At the start of the year I thought Winona would contend for the South title, and they still might, but this is a prove it game on both sides of the ball for the Warriors. From what I’ve seen so far, I like the Mavs to stop the Warriors offense while being able to run the ball on Winona.
Minnesota-Duluth (3-0) at Bemidji State (3-0)
BSU caught some flack for not dominating Crookston a week ago, but after seeing the grass field that quickly turned to mud, it was easy to understand why the game was closer than expected. Once Bemidji adjusted to the conditions, the Beavers breezed in the second half to a 27-10 win. Certainly BSU has to be concerned about giving up 300 yards of offense to the Golden Eagles, but for the most part the defense has looked strong and played fast on a regular track.
UMD had an interesting game with SCSU. The Bulldogs were held to 234 yards of offense and struggled with a stingy Huskies defense. John Larson had one of his worst games as a Dog completing just 13 of 33 passes, with 1 interception. The UMD offense has been up and down so far but the UMD defense is back to being one of the best in the NSIC, limiting SCSU to 43 yards rushing on 28 attempts and out of the end zone through nearly three quarters.
At the start of the season I liked BSU to be the better squad with Brandon Alt one of the top signal-callers in the league. I also thought the BSU offense would be a little more explosive than they’ve been. With Alt’s season over due to another knee injury, I’m favoring Bulldog QB John Larson over Beaver second stringer Jared Henning.
Northern State (1-2) at St. Cloud State (2-1)
NSU had a great opportunity to get on-track for a .500 or better season by beating Moorhead a week ago. Instead, the Wolves gave up a late touchdown pass and dropped to 1-2. Once again, the Wolves offense just isn’t playing at the level I expected. The NSU defense has kept things close but the offense needs to finish. QB Hunter Trautman is completing just 50% of his attempts and has been picked off three times with just one touchdown pass.
SCSU raised the eyebrows of many by hanging around with Duluth a week ago, pulling to within 6 points in the final minutes. The Huskies still need to get more from QB Dwayne Lawhorn. He was skittish at times due to the Bulldogs pass rush. Lawhorn moves around well in the pocket which continues to make me think he should make more plays on scampers than he does. The Husky D was pretty much the story in Duluth, limiting a dangerous UMD offense to under 250 yards.
While it doesn’t seem like SCSU has established a strong identity offensively, I think the defense will stymie the struggling Wolves offense.
Southwest Minnesota State (0-3) at Upper Iowa (0-3)
Not a lot to be said for this one. Both teams are struggling, which I was afraid of. Each squad is figuring their way with a backup quarterback. Neither has looked good defensively, so it really creates guesswork when it comes to picking a winner. While the SMSU offense has shown more promise, I do feel the Peacock defense is the better unit of the two. I’m throwing a dart at Upper Iowa since the game is in Fayette.
Concordia-St. Paul (2-1) at Wayne State (1-2)
CSP had its bubble burst last week by Mankato, but the squad is still in a good spot to have a successful season. Maxon Hutton struggled vs. Kato as did the Golden Bears running game. Even though Concordia is 2-1, I thought the offense would be better than it’s trending. It’s been serviceable but hasn’t crossed 400 yards in any of their three contests.
CSP only saw Nate Gunn part time due to injury and the defense did a solid job of keeping the Bears in the game, only trailing 14-0 at half. Linebacker Jake Portz leads the NSIC with 13 tackles per game and Chris Garrett has continued where he left off a season ago, leading the conference in sacks with 4.
Wayne State is one of those squads I’m uncertain about week-to-week. The Wildcats put up over 500 yards of offense against SMSU but struggled to punch the ball in the end zone. A week later, Wayne marched down the field on Augie multiple times but could only muster 13 points. WSC needs to get better in the red zone, getting touchdowns and not just field goals.
Wayne has been better defensively, but it’s hard to feel good about the 23 second-half points allowed in the Augie loss.
I feel there’s a real chance the live arm of WSC QB Andy McCance might have enough success against CSP to pull out a victory, but I’m going with the safe pick and taking the Bears to get enough pressure on the young signal-caller to get the road win.