BEMIDJI – It doesn’t take much detective work to figure out Bemidji State’s main objective for today’s matchup against Wayne State: Hang on to the football.
That’s something the Beavers failed to do last week against Minnesota State Mankato. BSU (1-1) turned the ball over five times in the first half – including three times in the first 12 minutes – en route to a 38-10 loss to the Mavericks in Mankato.
“It doesn’t matter who you play, you can’t turn the ball over,” BSU offensive coordinator Eric Medberry said. “If you’re playing Mankato East High School and you turn the ball over five times, you’re not going to fare very well either.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance to be successful. And then by the chance we got things even remotely going offensively it was probably too little too late.”
The Beavers take on the Wildcats (2-0) at 1 p.m. today in the annual Shrine Game at Chet Anderson Stadium. And they’re glad to be back home after last week’s disappointing game at Mankato.
If you looked at the score without looking at the stat sheet, you might think the Mavericks completely shut down the Beaver offense. But that wasn’t the case.
MSU only outgained BSU in total yards 323-276. Translation: The Mavs weren’t overpowering. They just took advantage of BSU’s sloppy fundamentals. All three first-quarter turnovers led to Maverick points, and by the time the Beavers got any sort of offensive drive going, it was already 17-0.
“We never got great field position,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “And then even the second half we moved the ball better but couldn’t make a big play in the red zone. We didn’t get many points out of that and it hurt us.”
Against Wayne State, a team that has held opponents to a total of 12 points in two games, the Beavers want to move the ball early against an undersized defense that has speed on its side.
“They kinda run the same package as Mankato,” Tesch said. “They have some real good athletic guys. They’re not quite as big as MSU. But they fly around out there, try and cause turnovers and get back at you.”
The Wildcats are 2-0 after manhandling MSU Moorhead in their season opener and edging NSIC newcomer Minot State last week.
The Wildcat defense has forced four turnovers and leads the NSIC with a league-high 10 sacks.
Jeff Pokorny and Richard Daniel lead all conference defensive linemen in tackles, with 18 and 16, respectively, while Daniel has a league-high four sacks.
Linebacker Jared Curry has also been solid, with 13 tackles and two sacks.
“Their defense is very fast,” BSU running back Dustin Kroeplin said. “They aren’t very big in some positions, but they have a stud defensive end (Daniel) who is very quick. He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he will beat you with his speed.”
Daniel is only 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds. He’s been a sack machine so far this season. BSU quarterback Lance Rongstad has been sacked six times already this year.
“That’s something we have to recognize,” Kroeplin said. “My goal is going to be to keep Lance safe, work hard and stop him and the rest of those guys from getting to my quarterback.”
Rongstad hasn’t had much trouble finding receivers – he’s thrown for 359 yards and has found 11 different receivers.
Establishing a running game, though, has been difficult for BSU. That may be something they’ll need to do to find their momentum again on offense. Medberry said they must find a way to move the chains better – or to “grind out drives.”
“We just need to put a good drive together,” he said. “We certainly hope it’s the first drive. Just move the chains and get a rhythm going. The more we do that the more the confidence builds with the guys. That’s a big part.”
The more the offense stays on the field, the less work the defense has to do. Tesch said they were gassed after the first quarter because the defense had to keep going out there following fumbles.
That’s not an excuse Cory Crosby will use.
“Our defense did okay,” said Crosby, who had a team-high 12 tackles. “We had a lot of mental mistakes that we need to fix this week, so that’s our main focus.”
If the defense can stop a high-scoring Wayne State offense – one that’s gained 925 yards and scored 69 points – it will give the Beavers a chance to win. But the offense needs to do its job, too.
“We were kinda beat up and beat down last week,” Medberry said. “We know we’re capable. We just have to find a way to execute and make things happen.”
NOTE: All-American tight end Brian Leonhardt, who suffered an ankle injury against Upper Iowa in week one, is scheduled to return to the lineup today.
“Brian practiced Thursday,” Medberry said. “He’s been looking better every day. We’ll see how he looks.”
Leonhardt sat out against Mankato.
“He’s been working his tail off trying to get back out there, doing all the rehab they let him do,” Medberry said. “It’s just a matter of time before he gets that strength back. But he’s chomping at the bit to get back out there.”