Aaron Ziemer

North South Rivalry Week

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The battle for the Traveling Training Kit resumes this week, on the unofficial homecoming at St. Cloud State University. Of course that means the rest of the NSIC is also battling their annual rivals from the other half. And looking at the standings and the matchups this week, there is a lot on the line in several of these games this week.

We will start with the battle for the Traveling Training Kit.

Minnesota State (4-1) at St. Cloud State (4-1)
Last Year: 31-17, St. Cloud State

There have been 75 meetings between St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. The two schools and programs are two of the oldest football programs in the conference, these two programs have gone from opponents in the NIC, to opponents in the NCC, and now are conference rivals in the NSIC.

The Huskies lead the overall series 40-31-4, and St. Cloud State has won six of the last seven meetings, including the meeting last year between the two programs. In the game last year, Fred Williams caught a pair of touchdown passes and quarterback Phil Klaphake tossed three TD's in the game.

Well, Williams is gone, and last week Klaphake left the game against Northern State with a leg injury. While Klaphake's status for Saturday remains a little uncertain today, I find it hard to believe that if there is any way he can go, that he won't. This game is too big for St. Cloud to be missing the conference's best quarterback, unless he is completely unavailable.

But even if he is available, it the Maverick Defense will be the toughest defense the Huskies have faced so far this year. The Mavericks are number one in the conference against the pass, giving up just 135 yards a game through the air. They are only giving up 17.8 points a game and they are tough against the run.

Things won't be much easier for the Mavericks to move the ball either, St. Cloud's defense is giving up just 16-points a game, and is only giving up 107 yards a game on the ground. The one spot the Huskies have been a little suspect is against the pass, giving up 221-yards a game through the air, near the bottom of the conference.

While, Jon Daniels has brought some stability to the Maverick offense, this week will be his most important week since transferring to Minnesota State this season. He is going to be challenged this week, especially if the Huskies Defense can keep track of Andy Pfieffer, he is going to be asked to connect on a few third and longs this week.

Daniels last week showed he can certainly provide some balance for this Maverick offense, as he threw for 228 yards while completing 17 of 27 passes. The problem last week was that he threw three interceptions against Winona State, that is something he'll have to avoid this week, because the Huskies have forced 12 turnovers on the year.

I really think for St. Cloud this week the key will really be the running game. Even if Klaphake can go, having a solid running game next to him this week will certainly help take the pressure off of him, or whoever plays quarterback this week. The Huskies are third in the conference when it comes to running the football, averaging 207 yards a game on the ground. What's more, last year, St. Cloud ran the ball for 262 yards against the Mavericks.

With one loss already, and Minnesota Duluth and Bemidji State still ahead for the Huskies on the schedule, getting this one Saturday is vital if they want to make the playoffs. I don't think there will be a ton of points scored in this meeting today, but I like the Huskies to emerge with the Traveling Training Kit.

Extra Point: Maybe its a combination of things, whether its the struggles of the Gophers and Vikings this fall, or what have you, it was awesome to see 7011 people turn out for the Mavericks-Winona State game last week in Mankato. That set a school record for Minnesota State, and is a great sign that people are starting to recognize the quality of Division II football in the Northern Sun.

University of Mary (3-2) at Wayne State (4-1)
Last Year: 33-28, Wayne State

Wayne State might be the most opportunistic defense I have ever seen at the Division II level. The Wildcats lead the Northern Sun with a +14 turnover ratio, and lead the country when it comes to creating turnovers, as the Wildcats have forced 13 of them in the last two weeks alone. That's right, after forcing six turnovers two weeks ago against Northern State, the encore performance was forcing seven of them against Southwest Minnesota State.

How do they do it? Well, for one, Richard Daniel is the best defensive lineman in the conference, he is such a rare combination of speed, and strength, that he is virtually unblockable for tackles. But the guy that gets overlooked is the man on the inside, Michael Bazata, who continually forces double teams in the middle, in order to allow Daniel the one on one matchups he see's along the outside.

Then the rest of it, is making sure they stay in the right place at the right time, so that when the ball goes in the air, they secondary is in position, and the defensive linemen get hands in the air, and they are able to get takeaways. Then the most important part, the Wildcats capitalize on those turnovers they get, and forces teams to throw the ball more, and thus creating more opportunities for turnovers.

Like I said last week, the University of Mary continues to be the NSIC's version of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, because one week they give up over 300-yards on the ground against St. Cloud State, but then the Marauders go and pitch their second shutout of the season against Minnesota Crookston. And yes, the Golden Eagles could run the ball against the Marauders, but they were not able to turn 232 yards on the ground into any points.

Craig Bagnell did not play last week against Minnesota Crookston, instead the Marauders started Josh Edwards at quarterback. The Marauders rushed for 265 yards in the game, led by Dariouse Gray, who broke on to the scene rushing for 107 yards last week. Josh Murray ran for 87 yards in the game. Edwards threw for just 40 yards last week, but he did throw for a couple of touchdowns.

It looks like Wayne has improved on their rush defense from earlier this season, although they do rely a lot on redshirt freshmen at the linebacker position, and freshmen can be inconsistent from time to time. They played well against Minnesota Duluth, but Northern State and Southwest are not at the top of the conference when it comes to the ground game, so I am still a little guarded about how the Wildcats will do against a team like Mary.

I think the real key is going to be in the first few minutes of the game. If Wayne State is able to get out to a 10-point lead or more early, they could go on and roll on the points in this one, but if not, Mary has the weapons, especially on the ground, to concern the Wildcats.

I will take the Wildcats, because they are at home, and have been really tough to beat there, but again, I think this one could be a real battle, especially if Mary were to take a lead into the second half.

Minnesota Duluth (4-1) at Winona State (3-2)
Last Year: 59-17, Minnesota Duluth

We talked about must win games earlier in this column, I think this is another one that goes on the schedule if either team wants a shot at the playoffs. First off for Winona State, they have two losses already, there is no way they will make the playoffs with three losses, while Minnesota Duluth still has a very tough game on the schedule with St. Cloud State ahead.

Winona has the ability to beat anyone in the Northern Sun. They have a defense that has been able to force turnovers, and they have a running game that anyone in the league would be envious of. Rayon Simmons and Theo Burkett are the NSIC's top tandem today, and with an ability to mix in Curtis Dewberry in the backfield, there is really no way to stop the Warriors all of the time.

The problem is this week the Warriors will take on one of the top run defense's in the conference this season, as they come in ranked third against the run in the NSIC. The Buldogs give up only about 100 yards a game on the ground. That will put some pressure on the Warriors to effectively throw the ball this week against Minnesota Duluth. It's not like they can't, Bryan Bradshaw is completing over 60-percent of his passes for the Warriors, but their ability to throw the ball this week will certainly be a key in this one.

On the other side of the ball, Minnesota Duluth is a very balanced offensive attack. The Bulldogs don't have one single guy who jumps out statistically, but what you see when you look at them is a team that relies on 3-4 guys to carry the ball, and as a group they have rushed the ball for over 1000 yards already this year. Then you see that Chace Vogler has thrown for 868 yards and six touchdowns.

Just looking at it, these teams are very similar, including where they stand in turnover margin. Minnesota Duluth is a plus one, Winona State is plus two. However, how they have gotten there is quite different, the Bulldogs don't force a lot of turnovers, in all six on the year, just over one a game, but they have only turned it over five times. However, Winona State has forced 12-turnovers on the year, but the Warriors are not nearly as careful with the football as Minnesota Duluth, the Warriors have turned it over 10-times.

Last year in their meeting Minnesota Duluth ran for 371 yards against Winona State, but a lot has changed since then, this year's Bulldogs team isn't as dominant as last year's group, and last year's game was in Duluth, this year's game is in Winona. I have said a few times, I think St. Cloud State is the best team in the Northern Sun this season, right now, the one blemish on their record came in Winona, and Minnesota Duluth already lost a road game in Wayne, Nebraska earlier this year.

Winona has already shown they can win the big games at home, and Winona is no picnic to go play at, in fact when St. Cloud was there the Warriors rallied to score 17 unanswered points in the second half to erase a 16-12 halftime deficit, to win the game. They accomplished that by forcing five turnovers against the Huskies.

Ball control will be the big key, but if Winona can force Bulldog turnovers they will win the game, because Minnesota Duluth isn't a turnover forcing defense. I just have a feeling about this one, so with everything on the line in Winona, I am going to take a stunning upset, I am going to take the Warriors to beat the Bulldogs this week.

Extra Point: The last time Minnesota Duluth lost to Winona was on November 15th of 2003, the Warriors emerged with a 24-17 win over the Bulldogs. It was also the last NSIC game the Bulldogs lost, before falling to Wayne State, just a few weeks ago.

That's the forecast for the first three rivalry games this week, later we will take a look at the final four.

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  1. Herdman's Avatar
    Nice work Aaron.
  2. cyndym's Avatar
    Can't wait to read your pre-game analysis each week. As much as I agree with you that Richard Daniels is something special, the entire WSC defense is holding its own. Check out the individual stats and you'll see that the totals are pretty evenly spread out. There are a lot of guys consistently making great plays every game. Of course I am biased - I'm a mom of one of them.