The Bemidji State football team opens the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference season Saturday on the road with a stern test against a nationally ranked team.
The Beavers will take on No. 10 Minnesota State University, Mankato at Blakeslee Stadium at 6 p.m. and the game should be a good measuring stick to see how far the Bemidji State squad has progressed over the last year.
"They've got some big guys, a lot of seniors, they were a national playoff team last year- they're a very confident team and rightfully so given what they have accomplished," Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said.
The Mavericks overpowered the Beavers in the first half of last year's game for a 28-14 win at Chet Anderson Stadium and that game was decided in the trenches.
The experienced Mankato offensive line pushed around the young BSU defensive line and the Mankato defensive line smothered Bemidji State's running game.
Little has changed in Mankato over the last year. So if the Beavers want to challenge the Mavericks for the win today, better play on the lines is a good place to start.
"They're fairly big, so we're going to be moving around on them," Bemidji State defensive end Bryan Wick said. "We're going to try and confuse them a little bit ... they're huge. They average some 300 pounds. We're going to have to use our speed and athleticism to our advantage."
The good news for Bemidji State came in last Thrsday's commanding 47-20 win over Minot State in the home and season opener.
Bemidji State played well in nearly every phase of the game while the offensive and defensive lines showed marked improvement from one year ago.
"I thought we handled the line of scrimmage against Minot and I think that's going to be the key against Mankato too ... we're going to need to control the line," Tesch said.
The offensive line led the way for Bemidji State's impressive 293 yards rushing - the most yards rushing for BSU in a single game since 2005.
Freshman running back Dustin Kroeplin had a strong debut in his first career game as a Beaver. The bruising back from Wisconsin rushed for 108 yards, scored two touchdowns and scored on a two-point conversion. Most of that came in the first half before the second team offense entered the game in the second half.
"It was my first time playing collegiate football and I was nervous, I'm not going to lie," Kroeplin said. "We were asked to come out and execute what we worked on during two-a-day season and we did that ... now we're going to be going up against a bigger, faster, tougher D-line. But we're going to give it our best and we're going to do what we need to do to get that win."
Repeating last Thursday's team rushing performance may be a tall order, but surpassing the 49 yards gained in last year's game against the Mavericks would go a long way in helping the Beavers be competitive today.
Tesch was pleased with the ground game last week, but feels that the offense could have passed more. The Beavers are expecting a quick-route passing attack to carry the offense this season rather than a power running game.
BSU quarterback Derek Edholm spread the ball around last week and was an efficient 6-of-10 for 88 yards and one touchdown against Minot.
The Bemidji State passing offense will need to take note of Mankato senior defensive back Kelvin Rodgers. The NSIC South preseason defensive player of the year returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown in Mankato's 31-13 win over Truman State last week.
It was a win that vaulted the Mavericks from No. 17 to No. 10 in the national rankings.
On defense, Bemidji State must find a way to control the Mankato running game. The Mavericks put up 229 yards rushing on the Beavers last year and that wore down the defense.
Mankato hit Truman State for 166 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Last week, the BSU defense limited Minot to 101 yards rushing. More important, the Minot offense was 2-for-14 on third-down conversions and had just 13 first downs in the game.
Rob Wills led Bemidji State's defense with six total tackles. Wick had three tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.
"The defense got some turnovers and they stopped the run, which was big, and got them into the third down situation and we did a better job than they did on third down. And that was some of the positives," Tesch said.
One of the bright spots in last year's game against Mankato was the Bemidji State pass defense, which pressured quarterback Ryan Fick into three interceptions.
Tiger Ellison and Dusty Sluzewicz accounted for two of those interceptions and will be in the starting lineup today.
E Today's game, as with all NSIC games, can be watched for free on the web at www.northernsun.tv.
- Mankato has won its last four home openers. Mankato also reached the Division II playoffs last season, but lost to Ashland 27-16 in the first round.
- Under Tesch, the Beavers are 2-2 against the Mavericks and are 1-1 in Blakeslee Stadium.
- Dating back to last season, Edholm has thrown a touchdown in his last six games. He has also not thrown for an interception in the last six games.
- Bemidji State was 4-for-4 in the red zone last week against Minot State. BSU scored four touchdowns on the four attempts.