Matt Witwicki

Super Region 4 Playoffs - 3 Games for the NSIC

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(Pictured: Texas A&M Commerce Luis Perez, Midwestern State Layton Rabb, CSU-Pueblo)
(Images courtesy of each athletic department)

Super Region Four – Playoffs

CSU-Pueblo (9-2) at MSU-Mankato (11-0)

Players to Watch:

CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves – Offense (38 ppg), Defense (14 ppg)
#21 (RB) Marche Dennard – 93 ypg, 17 touchdowns
#11 (QB) Rex Dausin – 140 ypg passing, 59%, 11 touchdown passes, 4 interceptions
#1 (CB) Emery Taylor – 12 pass breakups, 6 interceptions, 2 touchdowns
#20 (CB) Darius Williams – 9 pass breakups, 8 interceptions, 3 touchdowns

MSU-Mankato Mavericks – Offense (42 ppg), Defense (14 ppg)
#23 (RB) Nate Gunn – 139 ypg, 10 touchdowns
#84 (WR) Shane Zylstra – 44 catches, 67 ypg, 14 touchowns
#15 (K/P) Casey Bednarski – 18/19 on FGs, long of 63
#92 (DE) Evan Perrizo – 40 tackles, 15.5 tfl, 10.5 sacks

(Nate Gunn - MSU-Mankato)

The Mavs come into this game as a sizeable favorite per the computer rankings and such, but they also are very dinged up after a very physical football game a week ago at Sioux Falls. RB Nate Gunn has been out with a leg injury for the last 3 weeks, and hopes to return as his running-mate Justin Taormina has filled in very well, but is now also dinged up himself, having left their game early a week ago. The Mavericks looked like an unstoppable force just a few weeks ago, but have since struggled a bit with Wayne State, and had to come back from 10 down with 5 minutes to go last Saturday.

The Thunderwolves come into the playoffs after getting a favorable look from the selection committee, landing them in via Earned Access, essentially rewarding a conference champion a playoff spot if ranked 8th in the region. CSU-P has a similar identity to Sioux Falls, meaning they are a strong defensive football team that leans on the running game. Due to injuries at running back and quarterback, the Pack has gotten solid production from Rex Dausin and Marche Dennard in relief. While the CSU-P offensive isn’t one of the stronger units in the RMAC, their defense is. The secondary of the Pack is among the best in D2 and stealing passes, and have 2 corners that’ve combined for 5 scores. In comparison with USF a week ago, the Cougars were more of a 3-and-0 defense, whereas CSU-P defense is more of a turnover based group.

I think the T-Wolves match up pretty well with Mankato and aren’t the type of opponent the Mavs are looking for in round one. CSU-P will be physical and will not make things easy on the Mavs offense. An advantage I think MSU might go after is the 7 inch advantage they’ll have at WR vs CB. Zylstra has great body control for a 6-4 wideout, and I expect him to continue coming up big for the Mavs in the biggest of games. Don’t be surprised if this one is lower scoring, but I like the Mavs to limit a fairly average Pack offense, while finding a way against a defense that will challenge them.

MSU 30-22

Texas A&M Commerce (9-1) at Winona State (10-1)

Players to Watch:
Texas A&M Commerce Lions – Offense (40 ppg), Defense (15 ppg)

#12 (QB) Luis Perez – 343 ypg, 72%, 36 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
#4 (WR) Buck Wilson – 46 catches, 68 ypg, 9 touchdowns
#9 (LB) Brucks Saathoff – 59 tackles, 3 tfl, 2 sacks
#58 (DL) Kieston Carter – 29 tackles, 13 tfl, 3.5 sacks

Winona State Warriors – Offense (36 ppg), Defense (14 ppg)
#10 (WR) Isaiah Frantzen – 33 catches, 50 ypg, 7 touchdowns
#23 (S) Andrew Spencer – 76 tackles, 4.5 tfl, 2 sacks, 7 pbu, 7 interceptions, 2 touchdowns
#7 (LB) Nick Pridgeon – 49 tackles, 8 tfl, 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 1 touchdown
#5 (WR/KR) Jake Balliu – 102 all-purpose yards per game, 3 return touchdowns, 15 catches

(Andrew Spencer-Winona State)

WSU’s first home playoff game since 2004. The Warriors are hoping for the return at quarterback of Darren Beenken, who’s had a solid, yet not specular season leading the Warrior offense. Beenken has missed the last few games, after taking quite a few shots against Mankato. His favorite target is NDSU transfer Isaiah Frandsen, who’s heavily leaned on during big games. Frandsen is a dynamic wideout that has a knack for coming down with a well-contested ball. WSU has gotten stronger in the running game as the season continued, but their offense hasn’t been prolific. The Warrior defense is their situation, with the top defender in the NSIC lurking in the back half. Andrew Spencer has been a do-everything safety for Winona. He’s led the squad in tackles, while also being tops in interceptions. The Warrior D has been a top unit in the conference for the past two seasons and they are a veteran group that plays with a swagger, leading D2 in takeaways as well.

The visiting Lions have the top passer in D2 football this year in Luis Perez, who’s completed an astonishing 72% of his passes. TAMUC spreads the wealth through its receivers, along having an athletic group. The underrated part about this Commerce squad is their defense, as the Lone Star Conference gets labelled as an offense first conference. The Lions held opponents to 15 ppg, in a league that threw the ball a lot better than the NSIC. Commerce is strong against the run, allowing only 2.8 yards per carry.

This is the 3rd straight trip to the playoffs for Commerce. The Lions played up at Ferris State and Grand Valley in consecutive years, losing both contests, but competing admirably against top opponents in each game. I feel both of those opponents are stronger than Winona State this year, while I feel Commerce defends better this season than in the past. Commerce will be challenged with the more physical play of the Northern Sun, and WSU will come at them. The matchup between Andrew Spencer and Luis Perez will be the best in D2 this weekend, and while the cold and wind will surely slow down the road Lions, I do feel their offense is far superior to the Warriors. Both teams are similar defensively, with a nod to WSU and their ball-hawking. The special teams are a strength for both squads, and it’ll be interesting to see if TAMUC can contain the explosive Jake Balliu in the return game. This one should be the best and most interesting game in SR4 this weekend, and I have Commerce being too dynamic offensively in this one.

Commerce 31-27

Sioux Falls (9-2) at Midwestern State (9-0)

Players to Watch:
Sioux Falls Cougars – Offense (26 ppg), Defense (11 ppg)

#1 (RB) Jason Towns – 78 ypg, 6 touchdowns, 2 addtl touchdowns on returns
#5 (S) Josh Butler – 51 tackles, 2 tfl, 7 pass breakups
#31 (MLB) Michael Atonio – 67 tackles, 9 tfl, 4 sacks
#47 (LB/DE) Dennis Gardeck – 66 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 19.5 tfl

Midwestern State Mustangs – Offense (47 ppg), Defense (23 ppg)
#18 (QB) Layton Rabb – 290 ypg, 65%, 26 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
#5 (RB) Adrian Seales – 95 ypg, 7 touchdowns
#34 (RB) Vincent Johnson – 75 ypg, 16 touchdowns
#2 (S) Sir’Vell Ford – 57 tackles, 2 tfl, 2 pass breakups

(Jason Towns-USF)

Fascinating matchup as these two squads are a complete clash of styles. The Cougars are a very conservative squad offensively, looking to be careful with the football, advancing the ball via the running game and physical football, paired with a top defense. MSU is a high flying RPO offense that likes to read and react to what the defense is giving them, choosing run and pass from there. The stark contrast can be seen in the fact that the Mustangs average 21 more points per contest than the ground-content Cougars.

Sioux Falls started the season feeding the ball through their All-American running back Max Mickey, but after 5 weeks of play Mickey obtained a leg injury in practice, and his season was seemingly over. Being a decorated senior, Mickey has attempted to battle back and return to the Cougars lineup. He started to practice this week, but it’s uncertain if he’ll be ready to go, or effective. The Cougars will continue to lean on 5’6 and 160lb Jason Towns to be a threat for USF on the ground. Towns has done a good job in Mickey’s absence, and continues to be a threat in the punt return game. USF has struggled to get much going in the passing game, until just of late. USF surprised Mankato a week ago with some balls down in the field, which helped the Cougars battle toe-to-toe with the top team in the country. QB Ian Fieber has a strong arm, but he’s been afforded a lot of chances to cut loose. The USF offense really isn’t geared towards being a high flying attack. The Coo D has been very strong this season, 2nd best in the country. This hard hitting bunch will have their leader Josh Butler back after he was called for a targeting foul in the Mankato game, but after further review the ruling that would've sat him out for a half in the following game has been overturned. Butler plays downhill in the back half and along with Atonio are the hardest hitters in the Northern Sun. The Cougars will be looking to standout pass-rusher Dennis Gardeck to get around the edge to disrupt the Mustangs passing game.

Midwestern State has one of the top signal-callers at the D2 level, as Layton Rabb displayed a week ago against a strong ENMU squad, that he lit up for 393 yards through the air and 6 scores. The quick release and ability to throw on the rollout makes Rabb a very tough defend. The Mustangs have 5 pass-catchers with 20 grabs or more, and their speed and athleticism will be something the Cougar defense simply hasn’t seen yet this season. MSU supplements their passing game with a pair of running backs that will run counters and get up the field at 7 yards a pop. The MW offense creates a certain amount of uncertainty with defenders, due to the run/pass option of the plays.

The Midwestern defense is another story. The Mustang defense allows 434 yards per contest. That’s easily the worst among the 7 squads in the playoffs in SR4. The unit is also 8th against the run in the LSC, allowing 4.4 per tote. In the back half, MSU has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 65% of their throws against the defense.

The contrasting styles and strengths of these teams makes for a game that’s really difficult to call. The Mustangs could get up early and make USF and their slower going offense try and keep up. That’d be a tall task for USF, especially going against such an explosive attack. On the other hand, USF offense might be able to pound the interior line of the Mustangs, moving the chains, while limiting the MSU play count significantly. None of the above would shock me. Watching the Coo D against a Mankato offense that was averaging over 500 yards per game, and limiting them significantly, makes me believe they can disrupt Midwestern at the point of attack, while the Mustangs will be trying to make a game out on the perimeter. Layton Rabb has been sacked only 6 times all season, and the Cougars will be looking to double that number on Saturday. I’m taking USF’s physical style to outlast Midwestern State in the 4th quarter, and for the Cougars to win a back and forth contest.

USF 27-24

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  1. zimmy21's Avatar
    So Close on the USF score!