GAME TIME: 6 p.m. Saturday
SITE: Husky Stadium
RECORDS: Minnesota-Duluth 4-0 NSIC, 4-0 overall; St. Cloud State 2-2 NSIC, 2-2 overall
SERIES: St. Cloud State leads 23-21
LAST YEAR: St. Cloud State won 35-7 at Husky Stadium
LAST WEEK: UMD beat Augustana 42-34; St. Cloud State beat Wayne State (Neb.) 24-19
RANKINGS: UMD No. 2 in AFCA poll; SCSU is unranked
St. Cloud State head coach Scott Underwood was happy with his team’s improvement on the offensive line last week in a win at Wayne State (Neb.).
The Huskies (2-2 NSIC, 2-2 overall) ran for 123 yards with starting running back Michael Walker rushing for 110 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. Both of Walker’s touchdowns came on the first two drives of the second half when the Huskies took control of the game after halftime.
“The line made some progress,” Underwood said. “This group will be better every week. We’re going to have to compete at that level to run the ball every week. We also have to protect our quarterback better.”
St. Cloud State is host to No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth (4-0 NSIC, 4-0 overall) at 6 tonight at Husky Stadium.
The offensive line gave up five sacks against Wayne in the first half. SCSU quarterback Phillip Klaphake has been running for his life most of the season and Underwood knows that has to improve as well. However, Wayne State leads the NSIC in sacks with 17.
“I thought we did a decent job blocking,” Underwood said. “They found some lanes at times to get through or when Phillip stepped up underneath pressure. There’s a reason Richard Daniel is as highly-touted as he is in our conference. He’s a great player and a great pass rusher.”
Special teams has also been a sore subject with the Huskies. Bad snaps on punts and PATs, bad holds on PATs, quick kicks by Klaphake on fourth down getting blocked and kickoff coverage haven’t been executed well. It almost cost the Huskies a win at Wayne State.
“We have to do everything better on special teams,” Underwood said. “It only takes one person to break down a play. We’ve had bad snaps, our personal protector has left too early, a snap goes off a shoulder or Phillip didn’t do what he was assigned to on the sprint-out punt. That makes it easy to block. The scheme is decent when it’s executed at a high level. We just haven’t done it.”
NIELSON SAYS UMD NEEDS TO PLAY BETTER
Minnesota-Duluth is off to its typically strong start at 4-0. The Bulldogs have the No. 1 scoring offense in the NSIC at 48.8 points per game, the No. 1 rushing offense (266.8 yards a game) and are No. 1 in total offense (488.8 yards a game).
However, the Bulldogs’ pass defense is suspect again this year. The Bulldogs are 15th in the NSIC in pass defense, giving up 302 yards a game. UMD is giving up 23.5 points a game, which ranks them fifth in the NSIC in scoring defense.
UMD head coach Bob Nielson thinks his team needs to play better on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve played well at times,” he said. “We need to play better, though. In some areas we’ve made a lot of improvements, but in some we still need some work.”
The Bulldogs almost blew a 35-6 halftime lead over Augustana last week as the second half turned into an adventure in a 42-34 victory.
“The first half was our most complete half of football all year,” Nielson said. “Augie made some big plays on defense, generated a defensive score and made a big play in the kicking game. We moved the ball with consistency, but give Augie credit. They played really hard in the second half and got us out of rhythm.
“We didn’t make any plays when we needed to in the second half. We could’ve made it a lot easier on ourselves. The thing I was most disappointed with was we had a chance to close it out earlier and didn’t get it done.”
Nielson didn’t seem surprised by St. Cloud State’s 2-2 start. He said the NSIC is a lot more balanced than it used to be.
“I think our league is really balanced. You have to play well every week,” Nielson said. “There are battles every week. Anybody in the NSIC can beat you on any given day.
“We recognize the quality team that St. Cloud is and what kind of factor they’ll be in the division race. That means it’s a big game and it will have a lot of baring on the outcome of the conference race.”
The bread and butter for UMD’s offense is still running the ball. Sophomore Austin Sikorski has rushed for 326 yards on 57 carries with eight touchdowns so far this season. Backups Logan Lauters (216 yards, 2 TDs) and Brian Lucas (158 yards) have also been solid.
“We’ve used a lot of people at running back. We’ll continue to do that,” Nielson said. “It helps keep our backs fresh. We have a lot of confidence in that position group. That’s where our offense starts. We need to be able to have that consistent ground game to set up opportunities in the passing game. We’re pleased with the progress they’ve all made.”
* SCSU defensive back Eric Poggenburg on his team’s defense last week:
“We came out fired up and ready to go,” he said. “We were really prepared for Wayne State. We just knew we were the better team and came out very confident.”
* UMD quarterback Chase Vogler was disappointed his childhood friend Marvin Matthews wouldn’t be playing this week for St. Cloud State. The two grew up playing football together in their neighborhood. Vogler ended up attending Rosemount High School and Matthews went to Roseville High School.
Matthews is out for the season after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia in his lower abdomen on Friday.
“I talked to Marvin a lot during this whole thing,” Vogler said. “It’s really unfortunate for him with this being his senior year. I wish he was out there. I know he’ll get his redshirt and come back next year and do good things for SCSU.
“Marvin’s a good guy. We played some Little League football agianst each other growing up in the Eagan area. He was always a good player.”
* St. Cloud State recruited Vogler out of Rosemount, but as a safety. Minnesota-Duluth and MSU-Mankato were the only schools to recruit him as a QB.
“I wanted to play quarterback. Augie recruited me as a receiver and Winona did as a safety, too,” Vogler said.
* Vogler is third in the country in Division II in passing efficiency (169.12).
* UMD true sophomore Aaron Roth, who was named the NSIC special teams player of the week, owns the second-best kickoff return average in the country (39 yards a kick) and is the first Bulldog in 12 years to bring back two kicks for TDs in the same season.
* UMD is trying to win its fifth straight NSIC title this season. The Bulldogs shared it with St. Cloud State and MSU-Mankato last year. St. Cloud State won five straight NSIC titles from 1951-55.
* UMD is 93-1 in its last 94 games when leading after the third quarter.
* Nielson turned 53 on Friday.
* SCSU junior WR Eli Shoemaker caught a career-high five passes last week for 102 yards. He leads SCSU in receiving with 11 catches for 176 yards.