September 19th, 2019 11:00am
NSIC Preview Week Three
Thursday, September 19
Upper Iowa (0-2) at Winona State (1-1)
After looking horrible against Augie in week one the Peacocks rebounded nicely against Concordia, but still came up short 28-23. The UIU offense saw much improved play from quarterback Jake Schuman (27 of 44 for 3 scores and no interceptions). Wideout Alexander Stevens was the prime recipient of Schuman’s passes, nabbing 7 balls, 3 for scores. On the downside the Peacock D continues to struggle. It allowed 300 yards on the ground against CSP.
Winona must be coming into this game with quite the chip on its shoulder. Not only did Upper Iowa upset the Warriors last year amidst a playoff push, but WSU traveled to Sioux Falls last weekend a favorite and got thumped by the Cougars. The Warriors opened 2019 feeling like they had the best defense in the NSIC and maybe one of the top units in D2. But after allowing 23 first downs and 435 yards to a Cougar offense without Gabe Watson (for nearly the entire game), WSU has to be reeling.
Equally troubling are the challenges Winona had getting the passing game going vs. USF. The Warriors need a wideout to step up and help out the offense. Jake Balliu does a little bit of everything for the Minnesotans but they need to find production in the downfield in the passing game or risk poor offensive outputs against the better teams in the league.
While UIU looks to have gotten up off the canvas after getting knocked down in week one, I think Winona State will be out for redemption following the poor USF showing. Expect the Warrior defense to limit the Peacocks offensively.
Saturday, September 21
Bemidji State (2-0) at Minnesota-Crookston (0-2)
The Beavers season might’ve very well taken a turn for the worse with the season ending ACL injury for Brandon Alt. It’s the same knee Alt damaged a year ago and he’ll now miss nearly two full seasons. Thankfully for BSU, Jared Henning stepped in a year ago and has plenty of starting experience.
BSU has sharpened things on both sides of the ball with a lower strength of schedule these first weeks of the season, facing 3 teams with a total of 6 wins all last year. That said, the Beavers have won in dominating fashion and their defense looks to be one of the NSIC’s best.
The Crookston coaching staff had to be pleased with how the Eagles rallied and competed in week one against Moorhead. Last week they didn’t show much sign of life and were shutout 38-0 by St. Cloud, netting just 114 yards of offense. If Crookston struggled against SCSU, it’s easy to conclude they’ll struggle with a Bemidji squad that appears to be every bit as good.
Minnesota State-Mankato (2-0) at Concordia-St. Paul (2-0)
Mankato had a ‘prove-it’ game hosting Augustana in week two and passed with flying colors. While Augie looked every bit as good as the Mavs in the first half, MSU dominated after intermission and forced turnovers to secure a 27-7 triumph.
While the Mankato defense did give up multiple long plays in the passing game, the Mavs bent but didn’t break. The Viking offense found the end zone just one time. Considering the potency of the AU passing game, it was very impressive.
The MSU offense reminded many of the look it had in the playoffs a year ago (potent running game, inefficient passing attack). Nate Gunn went for over 100 yards, per usual, and backup Justin Taormina had his best production since battling through injury. JD Ekowa also added 66 yards on the ground, but he and Ryan Schlichte struggled throwing, completing just 10 of 29 throws. Shane Zylstra nabbed 6 balls for 108 yards and two TDS. Zylstra is such a standout D2 player at the D2 level he will likely get his catches weekly but the overall Mavs passing game will need to be more reliable when top caliber opponents.
Concordia is riding high coming into hosting Mankato this weekend. The Golden Bears shocked USF in the opener and then held off UIU. The question for CSP is much the same as with a handful of other teams in the NSIC, are they the team that won big in week one or the squad that barely beat a lower regarded opponent?
Running back Shaq Johnson played in week two (after sitting out the opener) and scored once while passing the 100-yard mark. The combination of Shaq and Lajuan Preston is probably as good as 1-2 ball carrying tandem in the NSIC. The emergence of QB Maxon Hutton getting chunk plays in the running game further makes CSP dangerous. The three ball carriers took CSP over 300 yards rushing against the Peacocks but the Bears only threw for 94 yards. Since Concordia has good receivers, it should be able to have greater balance between run and pass. This coming week the offense will be tested as the Mavs are typically stout against the run, which will force Hutton to show off his arm.
The CSP defense could be a cause for concern for Bears fans. UIU isn’t expected to be one of the better offensive squads in the conference, yet Jake Schuman was able to complete 27 of 44 for 239 yards against Concordia. The Peacocks brought the game to 28-23 in the middle of the 4th quarter, but the Bears held on for the W.
I feel the Golden Bears are improving year-to-year and have some of the better talent in the conference, but I’m not ready to say they’ll beat Mankato. I haven’t quite seen enough in the CSP passing game to think they can attack the Mavs where MSU is most vulnerable.
Wayne State (1-1) at Augustana (1-1)
The Vikings had to be pleased with a solid half of football in Mankato, but also must feel like they missed multiple scoring chances. As the game wore on, added weight was put on the shoulders of QB Kyle Saddler and he threw a few balls he’d like to have back. Saddler threw three picks and just one score. Being down just 10-7 at half, it felt like a game of ‘what might have been’ for the Vikings.
The Augie D played solid for the first 30 minutes but then started to unravel. S Michael Kloza is the leader for the defense and is being asked to move around a fair amount to make best use of his playmaking abilities. Eli Weber is quickly becoming one of the more athletic safeties in the league and he was able to nab a Mavs pass a week ago as well. At the end of the day, Mankato imposed its will in the running game, limiting the Vikings offense to just 23 minutes of possession.
Wayne State had an odd stat line. The Wildcats scored just 13 points in regulation against SMSU, while producing more than 500 yards of offense. QB Andy McCance had both good times and bad while completing 21 of 38 for 290 yards and 2 scores. McCance is still just a redshirt freshman, so he’s going to chuck a few balls into the hornet’s nest. He plays with a confidence that’ll win the Wildcats some ballgames, including last Saturday night.
The Wildcat defense limited SMSU to just four first downs in the first half and only 185 yards for the entire contest.
Augie is expected by most to blow the doors off Wayne in this one. Like USF, the Vikings run the risk of this being a trap game for them (AU and USF meet for the Key to the City next Thursday). I’m expecting that native South Dakotan Andy McCance will be eager to ‘ball out’ as he returns to play in his home state. With the Wayne State defense playing a little better than expected, this is a more interesting game than initially meets the eye. I still think Augie wins but the Wildcats should make it a tougher game than most would anticipate.
Sioux Falls (1-1) at Southwest Minnesota State (0-2)
USF had a bounce-back game for the ages in a one-sided physical handling of Winona State, 34-12. The Cougar defense really disrupted the Warrior passing game and never allowed them to get into a rhythm.
Caden Walters (QB) led the USF offense in a manner that he hasn’t shown in the past. Walters displayed command of the unit and was able to supplement the Coo running game with quick passes and quarterback scampers that kept WSU off balance. Walters plays with a swagger and has the ability to be a top signal-caller in the NSIC but needs to continue to show more of what he did against Winona to be that player. USF’s All-American running back Gabe Watson tried to play re-injured his hammy. Don’t be surprised if he’s out a week or two yet, especially with the emergence of steady Thuro Reisdorfer.
While USF got back on track, the Mustangs took a turn for the worse in their loss at Wayne State. The game went to overtime, but SMSU was extremely fortunate to be in that position after getting outgained 547 to 185. Unfortunately, the Mustangs lost their new-found gunslinger Steven Nava to injury, leading to the need for third string quarterback Paul Herrera. Herrera was just 1 for 3 for 5 yards but could be pressed into starting duty this week if Nava and week one starter Boyer Bouman remain on the shelf.
The SMSU defense has allowed an average of 575 yards per game but has “limited” opponents to 28 points per contest. In other words, they are giving up a mountain of yards but not as many points as one might expect.
SMSU always has the capability to be explosive and dangerous offensively, as Cory Sauter keeps defensive coordinators busy with the myriad of plays he throws at them. If Nava or Bouman is able to play at quarterback, that could make the Mustangs a little more dangerous. USF will need to maintain focus as their crosstown rivalry looms on the 26th. With that in mind, this has the feeling of a trap game. I think USF wins but SMSU always plays the Coo tough in Marshall. I expect they’ll hit the Cougars with a few gut punches again before USF pulls away.
St. Cloud State (2-0) at Minnesota-Duluth (2-0)
Both squads came into their Thursday contest a year ago riding high, but UMD got after SCSU early on the way to a 41-17 blowout. This year there’s a similar feeling and most are wondering if the Huskies can keep it close with the Bulldogs.
UMD struggled for a half against Moorhead a week ago, but rallied from a halftime deficit to put away the Dragons in resounding fashion 48-20. In the process we got to see the development of this dangerous yet wide-open Bulldog offense. Like in recent years, UMD is throwing the ball plenty and a little bit all over the field. Duluth signal-caller John Larson is flat-out the best quarterback in the league, no matter if passing or running. He reminds me a lot of the consummate winner and former Bulldog starter Drew Bauer, making plays in the passing game and getting key yardage with his feet when needed. When Bauer played there was a lot of top performing quarterbacks in the Northern Sun. Now there’s Larson, and then a group of others trying to assert themselves but not quite to his level.
Stepping up in the passing game are targets like running back Wade Sullivan, who is a dangerous wheel route target for opposing defenses, along with Northwest Missouri transfers Quincy Woods and Armani Carmickle. The former Bearcats combined for 8 grabs for 93 yards last week. Woods runs well and should help the Bulldogs help stretch the defense with his speed. Sullivan has the characteristics of a third down back. He doesn’t have the frame of a 20 plus carries running back, but instead is a nice space player who can share the carries with a bruising back all the while serving as a potent weapon in the passing game. That said, the Bulldogs have a diverse attack, but it all starts and ends with John Larson.
The UMD defense doesn’t seem as dominant as a season ago but I’m not sure how anyone could realistically expect that. That said, the way the Bulldogs shutdown the Dragons in the second half last Saturday should make the rest of the North extremely wary. UMD needs to shore things up in the back half but continues to get pressure on the quarterback, a constant with all the Duluth defenses in recent years.
It’s really hard to get a true read on the Huskies after two weeks given their opponents, Crookston and Mary, seemingly the two worst teams in the NSIC. Last week SCSU was up just 10-0 at half against Crookston. The Eagles got the quarterback four times and “limited” SCSU to 399 yards. The week previous SCSU put up 419 yards of offense against Mary in a 35-12 win. Neither one of these offensive outputs screams that St. Cloud is explosive. Not a great sign coming into a meeting with a strong UMD squad.
Many (including this columnist) have waited for the emergence of SCSU QB Dwayne Lawhorn, a player with a great mix of running athleticism and strong arm. So far Lawhorn is only averaging 158 yards per game in the air, while rushing for 41 yards. I have a feeling they’ll look to turn him loose a bit more on the ground against the better teams, choosing to keep him safe against lesser opponents.
The SCSU defense has looked good which was to be expected as it returned much of the group from a season ago, but it’s really hard to assess them after playing the two worst offenses in the conference.
I feel the Huskies need to hit big plays in the passing game or have Lawhorn break loose on the ground for big yards in order to win this one. I think the SCSU defense has the ability to keep things close with UMD, but it appears the Bulldogs are better prepared after being tested a week ago against MSUM.
Minot State (0-2) at Mary (0-2)
“The Battle of the Big Lake” is the clash between the two North Dakota squads in the Northern Sun, who are just 110 miles apart in the middle of the state. While this game is between two of the lower teams in the conference standings, local bragging rights and an edge for recruiting is at stake in Bismarck.
Minot State owns the advantage in the series of late and the Beavers will look to find the win column after a 14-10 setback a week ago against Northern State. Minot needs to improve offensively in the passing game. Local star Ben Bolinske is completing just 39% of his passes with no touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Ali Mohammed has helped the running game with 164 yards (6.6ypc) the first two weeks.
Mary is picking up the pieces after a poor showing at Bemidji. The Marauders were down 35-0 at half enroute to a 52-7 final in which they produced only 8 first downs. Quarterback Logan Nelson (out last year with an injury) has shared time with the Mary’s running signal-caller Avery Gould. Mary is still searching for an offensive identity and is struggling both running and passing.
I’m going with the experience that Minot has at some of the key skill positions along with a defense that I think is a little better as well.
Minot State 27-20
Minnesota State-Moorhead (1-1) at Northern State (1-1)
Both squads come into this clash in Aberdeen with a loss, but I’d contend that Moorhead has played better football. NSU squeaked by a Minot State squad that’s seemingly on-pace to win only a game or two. The Wolves scoring only 14 points at Minot doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in a unit that has the talent to be plenty better. Dakota Larson has the ability to be a top wideout in this league and with Hunter Trautman being a capable playmaker at quarterback, there should be more production than what we’ve seen.
Moorhead played a good first half against UMD and lead after 30 minutes. Then things fell apart terribly, continually turning the ball over while getting defensive pressure from the Bulldogs and getting outgained by 300 yards in the process. This makes the Dragons hard to figure.
When Jakob Sinani has time to throw, he’s one of the better passers in this league. Unfortunately, the Dragons have struggled to protect their quarterback against some of the better teams in the conference and the results go sideways in a hurry when that happens. Moorhead also needs to get more consistency in the running game if it is going to repeat the 8-3 season of a year ago. Last week the Dragons finished the contest with -10 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Certainly, this includes sacks, but you get the picture.
Both squads have been solid defensively at times but both have also given up big production against the top squads in the North.
Personally, I feel the Dragons are a little better football team than the Wolves but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this outcome go either way.