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UND FOOTBALL: Sioux hope to pass another test

MANKATO, Minn. - When a defense allows an offense to convert on third-and-15, there can be a mental letdown. The UND defense may give up big yardage on third-and-long today when the Sioux play Minnesota State-Mankato in the Mavericks' homecoming ...

MANKATO, Minn. - When a defense allows an offense to convert on third-and-15, there can be a mental letdown.

The UND defense may give up big yardage on third-and-long today when the Sioux play Minnesota State-Mankato in the Mavericks' homecoming game at Blakeslee Stadium.

But UND coach Dale Lennon said that is no reason for panic.

If the Mavericks convert those situations against the Sioux, Lennon said the key is to move to the next play.

By the simple law of averages, big offensive plays occur when a defense meets a pass-happy offense. And Mankato's passing game has produced a few smiles for the Mavericks this season.


"To them, third-and-15 means nothing," Lennon said. "When they know they have to throw, it's no big deal."

||?Page=001 Column=002 Loose,0004.01?||UND's mission today will be to prevent multiple big plays by Mankato. The No. 2 Sioux, who are 3-0 in the North Central Conference and 5-0 overall, are favored to beat Mankato, a team that has abandoned the run game in favor of the pass.

"Defensively, we have to be very patient," Lennon said.

But Mankato's patience may be wearing thin, considering the Mavericks are 1-1 in the NCC and 3-2 overall. Two NCC losses usually are enough to knock a team out of title contention.

"They have a team that can contend for the NCC title," Lennon said. "They're in a must-win situation. They'll be ready to put their best game on the field."

Mankato's strength is senior quarterback Ben King. He passed for more than 3,000 yards last season and already has thrown for more than 1,700 yards this season.

Despite the Mavericks' ability to pass the ball, Mankato hasn't scored an offensive touchdown against in UND in the teams' last three meetings. That's because the Sioux haven't given up a number of big plays in their last three games against the Mavericks.

UND's offense, meanwhile, is on a record-setting pace. The Sioux average 555.2 yards of offense per game, which ranks second in Division II. But the offense is all about balance as there is a difference of 342 yards between the passing and rushing yardage through five games.


"It's a typical North Dakota team," Mankato coach Jeff Jamrog said. "The bottom line is that they're winning. They got a shutout last week, and shutouts are tough to come by."

Containment week

Last week, UND's defense focused on redemption.

This week, the focus is on containment.

After allowing 70 points in back-to-back games, UND's defense pitched a shutout against Augustana last week. Today, UND's defense hopes to contain the passing game of Mankato quarterback Ben King.

"We know we'll be challenged," Sioux cornerback Drake Otto said. "We kind of embrace it. We look forward to it. We know it will be on us."

Mankato has rushed for only 238 yards this season. By comparison, Sioux running back Ryan Chappell is 41 yards away from the 1,000-yard mark. The Mavericks have thrown for 1,755 yards.

In each game, the Sioux defense tries to reach the goals it sets early in the week.


"They're pretty high," Otto said of the defensive goals. "They're not easy to come by."

Coyotes cornered

In recent years, South Dakota has been criticized for a soft schedule, one that many believe kept the powerful Coyotes out of the Division II playoffs a couple of times.

No one can criticize South Dakota's schedule this season. The Coyotes are 2-0 in the North Central Conference and 3-2 overall, with their losses coming at West Texas A&M and McNeese State, a powerful NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision program in Louisiana.

Today, South Dakota is at Central Washington. A win by Central Washington makes the Wildcats a legitimate NCC title contender. A loss won't help the Coyotes in the NCC. Nor will it help their chances of returning to the Division II playoffs. South Dakota still has to play at Nebraska-Omaha before closing out the regular season with UND.

"This schedule has been rough on us early," South Dakota coach Ed Meierkort said. "This will be our fourth road game, and the third of more than a 1,000 miles. The fourth was to Duluth."

McNeese is ranked No. 6 in this week's FCS poll. The Cowboys impressed South Dakota.

"They're the best teams we've played since I've been here," Meierkort said. "It was a competitive atmosphere and a great place to play. We had our chances."


Central Washington is 2-1 in the NCC and 3-1 overall, its lone loss a 35-28 setback at UND.

"This is a critical game for us," Meierkort said. "We're 3-2, but I really like this team." New practice surface

UND's first practice on its new surface at Memorial Stadium was Tuesday. The Sioux now practice on Sprinturf, an artificial surface that is expected to hold up well in northern climates.

The surface is soft and players had good things to say about it.

"You feel really fast on it," UND freshman running back Josh Murray said. "It's a little rough right now, but when they get it patted down, it's going to be great."

The surface also will help UND when it becomes a Division I Football Championship Subdivision program next season.

"We need this, to have a consistent surface we can play on," UND coach Dale Lennon said.

Reach Nelson at 780-1268, (800) 477-6572 ext. 268 or wnelson@gfherald.com .

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