Matt Witwicki

SR4 – Playoffs - Texas A&M Commerce (11-1) at MSU-Mankato (13-0)

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(Photos: MSU Athletics, TAMUC Athletics)

Super Region Four – Playoffs

Texas A&M Commerce (11-1) at MSU-Mankato (13-0)


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

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 or 19 on FGs, long of 63
#92 (DE) Evan Perrizo – 40 tackles, 15.5 tfl, 10.5 sacks
(Stats: Regular Season numbers)

This should be a great battle of contrasting styles offensively, along with 2 of the better offenses at the D2 level of play. The Lions throw the ball so often, the use of their running game is nearly an afterthought. On the flip side, the Mavericks would run the ball every down if the defense allowed them to successfully.

A week ago TAMUC came back from a 28-7 halftime deficit, winning the game in double overtime. QB Luis Perez struggled in the first half on his way to a 4-interception afternoon. However, during the last quarter of the game his efforts led the Lions back to victory. While TAMUC fans have to be thrilled with the victory over the top seed in the Super Region (CWU), their defense nearly gave up 500 yards and 31 points in the process. For the brunt of the year Commerce has looked like a top defensive team, but they have gotten in some battles, and in their loss to MW State they had challenges as well. However, the offensive attack for the Lions keeps coming and they have a host of wideouts who contribute as well. Buck Wilson (WR) caught 12 balls and scored twice for the Lions in their comeback win, while WR #15 Vincent Hobbs has come up big for the squad in the back half of the year and is a matchup challenge due to his 6’2 and 255lb frame.

Mankato had looked like a good, but not great team, in the weeks leading up to their contest with Midwestern State. However, the Mustangs being susceptible to the run hurt them badly as the Mavs pounded them on the ground all afternoon, totaling 500 yards. Star running back Nate Gunn looked a lot more limber a week after his early return against CSUP, and he gashed the MW defense for 193 yards himself. The MSU defense also limited the great Mustang passing game to just 7 points, until late during garbage time when the visitors put up two more scores. All American candidate Evan Perrizo (DE) leads their 4-3 defense (4-2-5), and gets a lot of help from guys like Zach Dodge (DT), Larry Moore (CB), Jerry Nash III (DB), and others. The Mavs D has been among the best in the NSIC all season, and has bulled their necks well so far in the postseason.

Outlook:
This one is really tough to call. The Mavs blew the doors off a MW State team that beat Commerce. However, I’m not a believer in transitive property thinking when it comes to football. I think Perez and the Lions will be a far tougher match for Mankato and their ability to throw the ball down the field will be more dangerous than what the Mavs saw from the RPO-based Mustangs a week ago. Perez is a very resilient player and his wideouts are good athletes that make plays. I think Mankato will have a heckuva time keeping this offense down for an entire game. That said, I think MSU gets a strong enough push defensively from their front 4 that they’ll get home often enough to get off the field on third downs more times than not. Something that the Mavs D has going for them is they don’t really need to respect the Lions running game. Thusly, they can basically play pass defense all the time and react to run when they see it, without getting gashed.

The Lions D will surely not leave the gate open like MW State did a week ago, and with the swagger and edge they play with, I’d expect them to be physical. Don’t be surprised if this game flares up and gets chippy a few times, as Mankato prides themselves at winning the physical battle. The Lions have given up yards on the ground, but they are still a solid team in run defense. In pass defense Commerce does have a bigger corner (6’2) in All-American caliber DB (#21) Yusef Sterling-Lowe. If he’s matched up with the very athletic NSIC O-POY Shane Zylstra (6’4), that could make for a pretty good matchup. I think the Mavs might struggle a bit if they need to rely on the passing game to bail out a struggling rush attack. That said, I do think the Mavs will establish the run and while I don’t see them getting 500 yards, I do think 300 is possible. If so, I think the home team escapes with a battle for the ages.
MSU-Mankato 30-24

Mineral Water Bowl
Minnesota Duluth (9-2) vs Central Missouri (8-3)

UMD comes into this game playing very well down the stretch, but also taking advantage of their weaker Northern Division schedule in the NSIC. The Bulldogs had a stretch of a few games in which they didn’t give up a point, but their defense will now be severely tested against the top passing team in the MIAA. Brook Bolles is a great playmaker at QB for UCM and averaged 317 yards per game through the air. The challenge for UMD is nobody in the NSIC had a strong passing game this season, and when UMD faced Mankato earlier in the year the Mavs took shots down the field on Duluth, having a lot of success in the process versus man coverage. UMD likes to bring pressure and force the issue on defense, but that also opens things up in the back end. I think UMD will have success moving the ball and getting points on the board against a middle of the pack Mules defense.

A year ago, I picked UMD to beat Emporia on the road, a team that also was very athletic and had an explosive offense. Emporia ran wild against the Bulldogs in that game. However, I think on a nice weather day in Missouri this will feel a bit like a home game for UCM and their offense will be hard to slow down.
UCM 38-30

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Updated 12-01-2017 at 03:11 PM by Matt Witwicki

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