Matt Witwicki

Week 4 NSIC Preview & Players To Watch

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(Images courtesy of SCSU Athletics, SMSU Athletics, Winona Daily News, Minnesota-Crookston Athletics, and MSU Athletics)

Week 4 Preview & Players To Watch

With the graduation of one of the most decorated senior classes a season ago, brings the emergence of new playmakers in the Northern Sun. Here is a sampling of some of the new faces that are making a difference with their program, along with a player that’s on the verge of setting a conference record as well.

Nate Gunn (MSU-RB)
Gunn is a sophomore that transferred from the University of South Dakota and has immediate fit in with the Mavericks. Gunn has 4 scores and leads the Northern Sun in rushing yards with 496. The race to the rushing lead in the conference should be fun to watch between Gunn and USF All-American Max Mickey, who currently trails the Maverick tailback by 15 yards after 3 weeks.

Adam Connette (UMC-WR)
Connette has been a star for the Golden Eagles for years, and in his senior season he now finds himself among the NSIC elite pass-catchers with 22 grabs for 289 yards and a conference best 4 receiving touchdowns.

Isaiah Frandsen (WSU-WR)
Frandsen is a new arrival in the NSIC, having started his collegiate career at NDSU, but was hampered the last few seasons due to lingering hip injuries. The junior wideout has caught 9 balls so far this year for 219 yards, and 3 scores. Expect to see WSU to lean on this talented new addition more as the season continues.

Nate Huot (SMSU-WR)
Huot is no stranger to those that’ve followed the league closely, as he’s been a strong yearly performer. Huot has caught at least 50 balls in each of his previous three seasons as a Mustang, now finding himself just seven catches shy of tying the conference record for grabs at 210. Huot is already off to a fast start this season, nabbing 19 balls for 302 yards, and 3 touchdowns.

Dwayne Lawhorn (SCSU-QB)
The sophomore signal-caller has transitioned into his starting role with good success so far, completing 58% of his passes, while throwing for 6 scores versus 3 interceptions. Lawhorn also offers the Husky offense dual threat ability from the quarterback position, running for 32 yards per game and a touchdown.

Games for Thursday, September 21
Mary (0-3) at Upper Iowa (2-1)
Mary continues to look better than their 0-3 record would suggest. Two of their losses come at the hands of Mankato and Sioux Falls. This last Saturday they moved the ball against a very good USF run defense, while keeping the score at half to 14-0. This type of effort should facilitate some wins in the back half of their schedule.

Upper Iowa had their best game of the season in beating Northern convincingly on the road. The Lammers to Edmonds combination went for 11 connections for 143 yards and a score. The Peacocks ran 96 plays against a Wolves defense that isn’t the league’s best, but a group that has been solid. The UIU defense held NSU to 11 first downs, limiting the home team in both the run and the pass.

The Peacocks find themselves in a favorable position to start the season 3-1, which looks pretty good considering their key losses on the offensive side of the football.
UIU 30-14

Games for Saturday, September 23
Minnesota-Duluth (1-2) at Wayne State (2-1)
UMD played a good first half a week ago versus MSU, but just didn’t have the firepower to keep up with the Mavs balanced attack. The Bulldogs now find themselves in a precarious position similar to 2015 when they also started 1-2 with losses to USF and Mankato, along with key injuries impacting them going forward. The UMD quarterback spot might see the use of a few signal-callers, as they become healthy, but third stringer Ben Everhart played steady in his first start on Saturday and deserves future snaps. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it was announced that first game starting quarterback Mike Rybarczyk and do-everything wide receiver Nate Ricci will both miss the rest of the season due to injury.

WSC found themselves down in the first half against Crookston, but asserted themselves by half and took over from there. Rashad Trimble is one of the better backs in the NSIC, and he rumbled for 185 yards and a score in the win. QB Zach Osborn currently leads the NSIC in touchdown passes, with 10, with only 1 interception.

I’d be expecting WSC to attack the Bulldog man coverage in a similar way the Mavs did a week ago. Playmaking 6’6 wideout Nate Rogers could create some fade route flashbacks for the Bulldogs. However, UMD is strong at the line of scrimmage and might very well hurry the Wildcats and blow up plays in the process. In the three games so far this season, WSC has allowed lower performing offenses to get season-best yards against their defense. This has trap game written all over it for UMD, and I think Wayne State can hurt them in the passing game, but the WSC concerns me too much to stick with them on this game.
UMD 30-27

Southwest Minnesota State (2-1) at Bemidji State (1-2)
BSU has now become my under-achieving squad so far in this young season. Considering all the weapons the Beavers returned from a very good team a year ago, including star quarterback Jordan Hein, I feel that BSU should’ve been better than we’ve seen so far this campaign. Do they have time to right the ship? Maybe, but they’ll have to win-out for any sort of shot at the postseason. Winning the North should now be their goal.

SMSU enters this game with their star quarterback Blake Gimbel questionable with an injury that seemingly forced him to depart in the first half against Minot a week ago. The Mustangs were able to win the day with a strong performance from their running game, but will need more firepower than that against a BSU squad that typically plays good at home.

At this point of the season I’m really unsure who exactly the Beavers are. A week ago special teams kept them in the game with Augustana, while the offense sputtered. Jordan Hein has 49.5% of his passes this season, and the BSU defense allowed 500 yards of offense to an Augustana offense that’s still figuring things out.

Given the uncertainty of the Gimbel, and the potential I still feel BSU has, I’m taking the Beavers to get back on track with a home win.
BSU 34-23

Winona State (3-0) at Minot State (0-3)
Minot State finds themselves winless after three weeks, but outside of the egg they laid in their opener at Concordia, I feel they’ve looked very competitive in their losses to Augie and SMSU. In both games the Beavers were driving in for the tying score as time expired. Most people didn’t expect them to be that close in either game, so credit needs to be given to Mike Aldrich and his staff at Minot for bringing this squad along.

WSU continues to impress weekly, turning over MSUM 5 times in their one-sided win over a very offensively potent Dragons squad. The Warriors continue to struggle running the football, but have been efficient in the passing game, and capitalized on turnovers credited by their defense. Linebacker Nick Pridgeon has 3 interceptions already this season and DB Andrew Spencer leads the squad with 24 tackles.

Winona State has played a strong schedule so far and dismantled each of their opponents along the way. I like the Warrior defense to really limit what the Beavers can do offensively in this one.
WSU 36-14

Northern State (1-2) at Minnesota State-Mankato (3-0)
NSU is a young football team that’s having some challenges offensively so far. A week ago the Wolves let a halftime lead against UIU slip away into a 31-17 setback. Northern struggled in the passing game, completing 12 of 27 passes, with 154 yards of total offense. On the flipside, the Wolves allowed the visiting Peacocks to run 96 plays and control the clock as well.

Mankato is coming off a huge win (any win at UMD is huge) in which they ran away from the Bulldogs and unleashed the fade raid on the man coverage of Duluth. With the tall pass-catchers of the Mavs and a great running back in Nate Gunn, MSU is the most balanced offense in the Northern Sun. The fact that MSU can play power football upfront, but also be able to beat teams over the top, makes them a very tough defend. The Mavs physically look different coming off the bus than other NSIC squads. The Mavericks will need more steady quarterback play going forward, as starter Ryan Schlicte is completing passes at a 49% clip. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coach Hoffner afford backup quarterback JD Ekowa more chances intermittently in games, since Ekowa offers a little more in the zone read running game.

Overall, I think MSU has their way with the Wolves in this one, limiting NSU offensively while forging ahead with both the run and pass.
MSU 37-13

Concordia-St. Paul (1-2) at Minnesota State-Moorhead (1-2)

CSP is starting to show signs of 2017 looking a lot like 2016. A year ago the Golden Bears got out to a nice start, winning their first two contests before dropping their next nine, most by a lopsided score. This season Concordia once again won their opener and looked good in the process, only to lose in one-sided games against mid-to-upper level squads since.

Moorhead is a tougher nut to crack. A week ago the score indicated they were steamrolled by WSU, and they kinda were. That said, the turnovers in that game (5) were key as MSUM had over 400 yards of offense and far more first downs than the Warriors, but turned the ball over when marching, often. The Dragons have produced the most first downs in the league, but are dead last in turnover margin at -9.

I think MSUM gets back on track and quarterback Demetrius Carr plays cleaner football this week, leading to a runaway Dragon victory.
MSUM 40-14

Augustana (2-1) at St. Cloud State (2-1)
The best matchup in the Northern Sun for Week 4.

SCSU comes into this contest performing slightly higher than expectations, given the youth they have on the offensive side of the football. Defensively the experienced Huskies are who I thought they’d be, one of the better defensive units in the conference. In each of the three games they’ve played, SCSU has limited the opponents running game significantly. St. Cloud has allowed 117 yards on 71 carries so far in the running game. Those numbers put them at second best in the country, only behind USF who’s number one in the category nationally. Offensively SCSU had some struggles against a strong WSU defense, but has moved the chains well this season, leading to the D2 best 38 minutes in time of possession. Joe Blando (RB) missed last week’s game against CSP, but assuming he’s good-to-go this week against Augie, he will give SCSU added stability in the running game.

A week ago I had the Vikings struggling against a strong BSU squad, moving their record to 1-2. Instead, they flipped the script, doubled up the yards on the Beavers, and frankly looked like the better team on their way to a 30-27 OT win. Quarterback Ryan Rubley went down with an injury, but true freshman Kyle Saddler played well enough to guide the Vikings to victory. Rubley is listed as the starter this week on the two-deep. When coverage has been strong, Rubley has found a way to get up field and move the chains quite a bit in the last two contests. He was also able to get the ball downfield a bit against the Beavers, which has been a missing element in the AU passing game this season. The running game continued their progress from the second half of the Minot State game, with Ryan Bradberry stepping up once again.

The ability to stop Bemidji State a week ago was the biggest development for the Vikings so far this season. In past weeks AU has given up chunk yards in the passing game, but they were able to get some turnovers against BSU and limit one of the better offenses in the league. Local area products Kirby Hora and Matt Wagner continue to lead a defense that’s starting to show some of the promise that their experience would expect.

I’ve gone back and forth on this game a few times this week and opinions seem to be split in our D2 Media Pick’Em as well. Both teams are coming in hot, and it’d be easy to choose SCSU with the way their defense is playing and the steady quarterback play they are getting from Dwayne Lawhorn. However, when I’m uncertain on a selection I feel compelled to lean towards the squad from the dominant division, and with the way the South has been steamrolling the North, I feel more confident in Augie in this one. I also feel that the Vikings have a higher ceiling than the Huskies, so we’ll see if they prove me right.
AU 31-26

Minnesota-Crookston (0-3) at Sioux Falls (3-0)
UMC came forward a spirited Thursday night effort fall short against Wayne State a week ago. Even though the Golden Eagles have extra time to prepare for the Cougars, I think they’ll struggle to move the chains against a defense that hasn’t let the opponent breathe in 2017. USF will likely continue working on their passing game, as they’ll need a more complete offensive attack for opponents like Winona State, Mankato, and others.
USF 45-0

Witt Record YTD: 17-7

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  1. Andy Davis's Avatar
    Always a great job, Matt!
  2. Quentin44's Avatar
    Nice. You have a way with words.