NSIC Week Two Preview

September 10th, 2021 6:00am

NSIC Week Two Preview

Week 2 Games

Games for Saturday, September 11

Upper Iowa (0-1) at Concordia-St. Paul (0-1)

A matchup of two squads that both couldn’t muster 20 yards of offense a week ago.  This doesn’t exactly make for a riveting watch.  Each team had signal-callers making their first start with the program and both had trouble finding the end zone.  Conner Cordts for CSP was 25 for 40, netting 130 yards and no scores.  The Bears were simply punched in the mouth at Winona and found themselves down 30 donut before getting a field goal just before half, en route to a 47-6 defeat. 

UIU found itself in a similar position. The Peacocks trailed UMD 20 to zero early in the second quarter before eventually succumbing 41-14.  QB TJ Smith completed 4 passes on the night, which would be fine if the Peacocks were an option offense.  However, Smith had 17 attempts and connected twice with Duluth in the process.  Willy Camacho ran hard for Upper, coming away with 101 yards on the ground and showing good quickness.  UIU defensive standout Erik Hansen also had 2 sacks in the loss. 

Outlook:  Which team shows up on Saturday? I’m leaning more towards Concordia at home.  The fact that we are even talking about the Bears in this way after just one contest must be discouraging for a squad that was projected to have a winning record.  They might still pull that off, but in watching their game against Winona they looked bad. 

Prediction:  CSP 27-16


Winona State (1-0) at Minnesota State-Moorhead (1-0)
Once again I’m wrong about the Dragons.  They beat Southwest 33-21 after I picked the Mustangs to win days earlier.  Even with a young squad, Steve Laqua finds a way to achieve more with less.  His .500 or better seasons of late and a trip to the Mineral Water Bowl should be proof of his value as a head coach.  Did the season opening win have something to do with playing a SMSU team doing a reboot? Sure.  That said, there’s immediate optimism in Moorhead with the strong debut of freshman quarterback Tommy Falk (from Jamestown, ND) who completed 19 of his 21 attempts for 285 yards and 3 scores.  He does have star, sure handed wideout Grady Bresnahan (think Cole Beasley) to throw to.  That helps for certain.  As I’m watching this game, I see Bresnahan win his post route for a long gain on a post/wheel concept by Moorhead and thought to myself, the guy just finds a way to get open.  He’s probably good money to lead the NSIC in catches (like in 2018), maybe even yards. 

As for Winona State, they enjoyed their Thursday contest as well in the blowout over Concordia 47-6.  Since I’ve had more trouble figuring out these two exact teams over the years more than anyone else, I was surprised at how the Warriors completely dominated the Golden Bears.  I really liked the WSU running game, the Statue of Liberty play that went for a long score as well as some pass plays that netted big yards.  Javian Roebuck returned after missing all but the opener of 2019.  Roebuck looked strong as he scored three times on his way to 131 yards on 14 totes.  The Warrior D was equally impressive, not allowing CSP to get anything going pretty much the entire day. 

Outlook:  I’m gonna do it again.  I’m going against Moorhead, but my lean is more about a very experienced Winona squad that might be finding themselves in a run for the conference title.  I’ll be very interested to see if Coach Laqua can continue to be creative and find ways to get points on the board for his Dragons, but I just feel the Warriors have too much at this moment. 

Prediction:  Winona State 38-20


Sioux Falls (0-1) at Minot State (0-1)

Having seen Minot State up close this last weekend at Augustana, I’m concerned this could be a long year for the squad.  While the Augie defense is one of the better units in the conference, I’m not sure they will be a shutdown group.  Last Saturday the Beavers certainly made them look that way.  The offensive line struggled to make time for quarterback Ben Bolinske and the skill players weren’t helping him a lot either.  Ali Mohammed is one of the top offensive weapons for Minot, but his efforts were thwarted on the way to a 13 carry 9-yard day.  On the flipside, the Minot defense looked good for about a quarter before getting exposed in the screen game, which then opened the floodgates en route to a 49-0 setback in Sioux Falls. 

USF had its own challenges as they hosted Bemidji State, losing 24-16.  Feature-back Thuro Riesdorfer had a huge fumble near the red zone early in the contest, stalling momentum at a time the Cougars looked like they were going to jump on BSU right away.  USF then struggled to get their inside running game going against a BSU 8-man box.  Bemidji State is a physical enough squad they were able to limit the Cougars ground game to just 4 first downs by half.  Finally, after finding themselves down 24-0 early in the 3rd period, the Coo got things rolling by mixing the pass with the outside running game, which led to a 16-yard dash by new signal-caller Adam Mullen.  I don’t feel Mullen did poorly in his first start. He was simply asked to keep the ship steady for much of the game instead of taking a lot of chances in the air.  Mullen only had 9 pass attempts at half. Knowing USF has decent receivers, I expect to see the Cougars involve them more in the near future to make the offense more dynamic.  A bright spot for the Coo was wideout Dominic Pegley, who caught 8 balls in his debut, one for a score.  After battling to get back within striking distance, the Cougar comeback was thwarted at the end of the game with the offense looking discombobulated conducting the 2-minute drill.  With 40 ticks left USF fumbled for the third time on the evening, eventually sealing what was a rough night for the home squad.

The defense looked strong for the better part of the night but had some huge lapses allowing BSU star wideout Malik Williams to get loose (7-156, 2 scores) to a few long scores ensued.  USF did keep the Bemidji running game in check but I’m not sure the Cougars expected Bemidji to throw 39 times.  In watching the contest, the single biggest challenge I felt USF had was getting off the field on third down.  BSU converted 11 of 22 third down attempts and in the first half it felt like the Beavers were converting time and again.  In the loss, linebacker Cody Jantzen still found a way to have a strong performance as he netted 9 stops. 

Outlook:  In 2019 USF also stumbled out of the gate in a loss to Concordia.  That immediately raised caused some panic among the USF faithful given the strong tradition in the football program.  The Cougars responded with force, handling Winona State 34-12 in week two.  I expect a get-right game from USF in this one as Minot didn’t have much in the way of bright spots in the first week loss. 

Prediction:  USF 38-10

Augustana (1-0) at Mary (0-1)

The Augies got out to slow start last Saturday against Minot but were able to really ignite their offense through the power running game featuring David Addo.  AU has probably the top stable of running backs in the conference. Addo is a power back who reminds me a bit of a slightly thinner (215 lbs) CJ Ham of years ago.  I don’t see him being a feature back for the Vikings, rather a 5 to10 carry a game guy strong in short yardage.  After Addo got things going in the power game, the Vikings utilized the screens twice with running back Jarod Epperson, netting over 40 yards per grab.  Epperson is a handful in open field thanks to his speed and ability to navigate the turf.  A 0-0 game at the end of one period suddenly became 21-0 and the Vikings were on the way to a 49-0 opening day win.  Kyle Saddler was 18 of 30 passing, but in the first half I felt he struggled and he’ll need to be better on his throws if the Vikings are going to be a threat to win the league.  The Augie defense had Minot QB Ben Bolinske on the run from the opening bell.  Holding any team in the NSIC to 164 yards and hanging a tire (0 points allowed) is mission accomplished for new Augie DC Mark Sipple. 

UMary got behind early at Wayne State, down 17-0 at the bathroom break.  The Marauders did battle back but not until finding themselves pretty much out of the contest down 27-7 by the middle of the third quarter.  Wideout Danny Kittner had himself a day, nabbing 17 balls for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Logan Nelson threw for 399 and 4 scores but was sacked 6 times. He was forced to throw 59 times in the comeback effort.  The 34-27 score wasn’t indicative of this ballgame.  UMary scored on the final play of the game to make things look tighter than it actually was. 

Outlook:  While it’s a long bus ride from Sioux Falls to Bismarck, I think Augie is still the better football team by a distance.  I’m not dismissing the idea that Craig Bagnell and his 4-wideout attack could give the visiting Vikings a scare, but I just think this AU defense will look closer to the league leading 2019 group and less like some of the other middle of the pack units of previous campaigns.  What hasn’t been said is that Wayne was able to both pass and run effectively against Mary, and Augustana will likely be able to do the same. 

Prediction:  Augie 41-20


Wayne State (1-0) at Bemidji State (1-0)

Bemidji State got off to a great start getting the better of the University of Sioux Falls 24-16. BSU stacked the box and had its safeties come downhill in the run game, bottling up the Cougars, shutting them out and limiting them to just 33 yards on the ground at half.  While the BSU offense took a while to get clicking, quarterback Brandon Alt found matchups he liked and exploited them.  Once Alt got slot receiver Malik Williams (7 grabs, 157 yards, 2 touchdowns) the ball with linebacker matchups, the Beavers forged ahead via the big play and never looked back.  BSU jumped to a 24-0 lead but allowed USF to cut the advantage to one score before All-American LB Gage Ames forced a fumble late to ice the contest.  Alt passing for over 300 yards against a respected Cougar defense offers hope to BSU fans that the Beaver offense might in fact be explosive this season. 

Wayne State got the John McMenamin era off to a good start with a 34-27 win over UMary.  Most figured the Wildcats would be a little higher-powered offensively with Coach Mac taking over, given the fact he was the OC at Central Missouri the last few years (the Bearcats had the top offense in D2 in 2019).  QB Tavian Willis was efficient for the ‘Cats, completing 16 of 29 for 268 yards and 3 scores, without a pick or sack.  Willis can move well in the pocket and accounted for another 46 yards on the ground to help move the chains.  Wayne was up 17-0 at half but then gave up 400 passing yards as the Marauders tried to climb back into the contest. 

Outlook:  The ‘Cats offense will keep them in plenty of ballgames this season and could have them as an upstart team in the South.  That said, I feel BSU is just the more physical and complete squad at this moment.  Brandon Alt, when healthy, is one of the better quarterbacks in this league and immediately makes the Beavers a playoff contender. 

Prediction:  BSU 30-17


Minnesota State-Mankato (1-0) at Minnesota-Duluth (1-0)

Years ago, this game seemed like the marquee matchup in the Northern Sun pitting the best squad from each division against each other.  Unfortunately, Mankato has dominated one-sided games with Duluth of late and made this game not feel quite like the rivalry most expected.  In the last meeting in 2019, the Mavs jumped on the Bulldogs early, racing out to a 35-0 lead at half before winning 52-7. 

In 2021, Kato is missing most of the production on both sides of the ball from that national runner up squad and is trying to figure out who will be the next era of MSU playmakers.  In the Mavericks opener against Northern State they found success offensively to the tune of 542 yards but had untimely first half turnovers that derailed scoring chances.  The Mavs found themselves in the odd position of being down 10 with five minutes to play.  Having the heart of a champion, JD Ekowa, who completed just 7 of his 22 passes on the day, led Mankato back to tie the game and ultimately win in overtime with a 4th down scamper.  Ekowa fumbled the ball once and was picked off twice, bringing into question what type of quarterback Ekowa will be for the Mavs.  Will he be turnover prone and inefficient, or will he be the playmaker we’ve seen in the past (or maybe both)?  USD transfer signal-caller Hayden Ekern came in to relieve Ekowa in the middle of contest and did well, completing 8 of 11 tosses.  It’s pretty much been the norm for head coach Todd Hoffner to play two quarterbacks, but this year it felt like Ekowa was going to be the main guy unless something happened. Kaleb Sleezer provided the type of reliable production in the running game the Mavericks are accustomed to, netting 153 yards and a score on 18 touches.  However, he too fumbled in the opener.   Something that did seem apparent was the Mavs inability to click in the passing game.  They threw for 295 yards, but that was largely due to two long completions, not an efficient aerial attack.  These are all things MSU fans are certainly concerned about but keep in mind the offense generated 34 points (in regulation) and over 500 yards. 

MSU once again had challenges defending the pass.  Watching NSU come out with 3 and 4 wideouts and commit to the air attack, it seemed apparent the Wolves felt the way to beat Mankato was through the air.  Part of that makes sense just because of how physical the Mavs are upfront and the size they seemingly always have there.  Mankato reached the quarterback 6 times for sacks but gave up some long plays in the passing game.  Shades of the West Florida nightmare of 2019.  It goes without saying that MSU’s expectations aren’t to allow nearly 400 yards of offense and 34 points to a squad picked to be around .500 in the NSIC. 

UMD on the other hand breezed in Fayette, a 41-14 win over UIU.  I think UMD would’ve liked to be a little better in the running game, but when the Bulldogs turned to the pass, they spread things around well and the Peacocks really had no answer.  I’ve said it numerous times in the past, but when QB John Larson is healthy, he’s as good or better than any quarterback in the Northern Sun.  Larson completed 22 of 33 for 447 yards and 6 scores.  Armani Carmickle was the preferred target on deep balls as he found a way to get behind the defense, scoring on plays of 61 and 84 yards on his way to a 5 catch, 209-yard day.  In watching the game, I couldn’t help but notice how Larson kept connecting with his big tight ends Kurtis Weigand and Zach Ojile, both of whom offer large targets with solid hands.  The pair caught 8 balls between them.  For fans who haven’t looked at UMD closely over the past few years, the Dogs are no longer a run-heavy squad that is trying to employ the ground and pound attack of the championship seasons from a decade ago.  They are diverse and don’t rely on an individual star.  That said, I couldn’t help but notice that QB Larson, often a big part of the running game, was held back and only scampered for yards when things broke down on a pass play.  This could be a focused effort to keep him healthy in his final season, but I have a feeling he’ll be turned loose against Mankato and have designed run plays in a game where they’ll need all hands on deck. 

The Bulldog defense limited the Peacocks to just 14 points but did allow a few long plays.  UMD brought the heat on new Peacock quarterback TJ Smith, giving him little time to throw and picking him off twice.  Linebacker Nate Pearson led the Dogs D with 2 of their 6 sacks. 

Outlook:  In years past I’ve felt Mankato was simply too much for Duluth, but this time around I’m not so sure.  A portion of this mindset comes from the Mavs just being an inexperienced bunch at the moment, still figuring out what they have and gaining chemistry.  Mankato has the running game to have a big day against UMD, but I’m not sure they are efficient enough in the passing game at this moment to keep drives from stalling.  On the other side, UMD throws the ball well enough to be a real threat to the Mavs back half.  QB John Larson is the x-factor in this one and his ability to make plays with his feet, while not getting knocked out of the game (like in 2019) is imperative.  The Bulldogs have an experienced bunch on both sides and the motivation of losing to Mankato each of the last 5 contests weighs heavily.  The Mavs have basically taken the throne from the Bulldogs as being the best team in the conference this last decade.  The last time UMD beat MSU was the 2011.  The quarterback for the Bulldogs in that game was Chase Vogler, who’s now the OC for the squad.  I’m taking UMD to end the streak on Saturday evening in what should be one of the top matchups in the NSIC this fall. 

Prediction:  UMD 34-31


Southwest Minnesota State (0-1) at Northern State (0-1)

Wolves new head coach Mike Schmidt nearly had himself an historically large win at Mankato a week ago.  They were up 10 in the final quarter but couldn’t navigate the bumpy waters to the finish, eventually losing 40-34 in overtime.  The Wolves took advantage of some early Maverick turnovers getting up 27-17 after three periods.  Watching the game, I was impressed with NSU’s game plan to attack (successfully) the Mavs through the air almost exclusively in the first half.  This same approach was employed by the Argos of West Florida in the Mavs last contest, a 48-40 loss in the 2019 national championship.  The idea on paper sounds great, but you have to be able to pull it off.  Having one of the top wideouts in the league in Dakota Larson gave the Wolves some of the ability to try such an approach.  NSU found the star pass-catcher 7 times for 168 yards and pair of scores.  While Hunter Trautman was sacked 6 times, he threw for 331 yards and 4 scores against a traditionally strong MSU defense. I didn’t feel the Wolves defense had a strong effort (allowing nearly 400 first half yards to an offense that wasn’t clicking) but it was able to get off the field at the right time due to some timely fumble recoveries. 

SMSU, you let me down.  Apparently, I got caught up in the off season “Let’s Ride” motivational chats of my guy head coach Cory Sauter.  In any event, new Mustang QB Andrew Haidet (NIU transfer) had a rough day at the office going 13 of 31 for just 119 yards while getting picked 3 times.  For a team that’s typically all about the air attack, these numbers aren’t going to cut it.  Defensively, the Mustangs started off the game allowing an 8 play 99-yard drive for a score, then followed it up by giving up a 1 play 64-yard strike for a 14-0 deficit.  All this might be a sign of challenging times ahead for the Mustangs. 

Outlook:  This is the home opener for Northern and the Wolves first in the brand new Dacotah Bank Stadium.  The venue will immediately become a top place to see a game in the D2 world. As for the game itself, expect to see the Wolves continue spreading things out with their passing game and their star wideout and his mates.  As for Southwest, it looks like they might have some work to do on both sides of the ball as they try and create some cohesion within their group. 

Prediction:  NSU 41-17