BEMIDJI – A three-game winning streak is just what the Bemidji State football team needed to build its confidence following their three-game losing streak.
The Beavers (4-3, 3-0 NSIC North) will need all of that confidence going into today’s game at No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Malosky Stadium in Duluth.
BSU hasn’t won in Duluth since 1951, and the Bulldogs (6-1, 2-1 NSIC North) are once again one of the best teams in the country.
That fact won’t change anything about BSU’s gameplan, which has been pretty simple this year: Hold on to the ball and play fundamental football. When the Beavers have done that, they’ve won. When they haven’t, they’ve lost.
“Obviously we know it’s a tough place to play, but we’re getting healthier than we’ve been a lot of the season,” BSU head coach Jeff Tesch said. “We have confidence coming off a three-game win streak. We’ve got to go in there, play base fundamental football and earn it. You’re not going to fool a team that’s been national champs and conference champs.”
After turning the ball over 14 times in their three losses, the Beavers have been taking much better care of the ball of late. In their three losses, they only committed four turnovers. In their most recent game, a 23-6 win over Northern State, the Beavers had a season-low one fumble.
That kind of consistency will be necessary against a Bulldog team that has been putting up huge offensive numbers. UMD averages 461.9 yards and 47.6 points a game.
The bottom line for the Beavers: Don’t give the Bulldogs any extra opportunities.
“They’re going to get some points,” Tesch said. “They’re averaging almost 40, 50 points a game. We’ve got to hold them down to an average day, in the 20s or something. And we’ve probably got to score a touchdown more than we’ve been averaging. They’re a good offense, we just can’t let them have a good day.”
Part of the key will be stopping Bulldogs quarterback Chase Vogler.
Vogler, an early NSIC MVP candidate, has thrown for 1,453 yards and 12 touchdowns. They also have a solid running back in Austin Sikorski, who has nine touchdowns and 512 yards on the ground.
Neither of them, though, are in the top five in any of the major offensive categories. In fact, one of the things that makes the Bulldogs so dangerous is their balance.
“It’s definitely a big challenge for our defense this week,” BSU linebacker Connor Quinn said. “I think they’re very fundamentally sound. I think they’re very predictable but they’re also very good at what they do. So I think we have a good game plan, we’re just going to try and be more fundamentally sound and come back at them with an attacking defense.”
Quinn, a redshirt freshman, is fourth on the team in tackles with 36, behind defensive captain Cory Crosby (76), Jason Bromm (53) and Charlie Hrdlicka (40).
“Our motto is fast and physical defense,” Quinn said. “We’re trying to simplify it and going back to how we used to play, so we’re just kinda running around, trying to make plays and working together as a unit.”
After struggling in the first few games, the BSU defense has returned to the ‘Gang Green’ style it’s been known for. BSU is ranked No. 18 nationally and No. 2 in the NSIC in total defense and No. 25 in the nation in scoring defense.
The UMD defense, while No. 17 in the country in stopping the run, has struggled to stop the pass. The Bulldogs are No. 147 nationally in pass defense – something the Beavers may exploit.
Quarterback Lance Rongstad has been stellar throwing the ball this year, and has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Senior Justin Lee has 489 yards receiving, while wide receivers Matt Gandrud and Jody Henningson and tight end Brian Leonhardt have all surpassed the 100-yard mark.
“They’re one of the top teams in the nation, so they have a great defense,” Leonhardt said. “We’re just going to have to battle away against them, see what opens up and see what happens.”