For some reason, my preview story for today’s USF vs. UMD game didn’t get posted to the website. So here it is. The Augie vs. MSU-Moorhead preview is here.
By Matt Zimmer
Last year the USF football team welcomed themselves to the NSIC by going on the road to stun a North division heavyweight in the season opener, upsetting St. Cloud State in the season opener.
Can they do it again?
The Cougars are again being sent north to face a perennial heavyweight in the season opener, but this time the challenge is even bigger. Minnesota Duluth is the opponent, and while the Bulldogs have a new coach (offensive coordinator Curt Wiese was promoted to replace Bob Nielson, who left for Western Illinois) and a new quarterback, they have 22 seniors, 18 returning starters, and know a few things about reloading. They’ve made five straight playoff appearances, going 62-7 and winning two national championships in that time.
And last year when USF went up to St. Cloud, they had 25 seniors of their own, including at quarterback. This year they open the season with one of the youngest lineups they’ve ever fielded, with true freshman Luke Papilion at quarterback.
“Their track record speaks for itself, and we have a lot of respect for that,” said senior offensive lineman Sam Dooyema. “But we have a tradition we pride ourselves on. We were in a similar situation last year at this time and we definitely want to channel that same mentality. We know people are doubting us again. We just shrug our shoulders and go back to work.”
Dooyema is right, USF has often thrived on their winning tradition and ability to prove people wrong. But Cougar coach Jed Stugart recognizes that this week’s opponent does the exact same thing, and they have the muscle to back up the tradition.
“As a coach you always respect great traditions and this is a place that has that,” Stugart said. “It’s a blue collar program. They don’t try to trick you, they just line up and play. We can talk about how we’ve been able to win games with our winning know-how before, but this is a team that does that, too.”
UMD will start redshirt freshman Drew Bauer at quarterback (he beat out former SDSU backup Eric Kline for the job), but he’ll work behind an offensive line that figures to be punishing and will definitely challenge the Cougars’ undersized front seven.
Austin Sikorski is a proven runner in the backfield, while Zach Zweifel and Aaron Roth are playmakers at receiver.
The Bulldogs run a 3-4 scheme, and their linebackers are nearly as big as USF’s linemen. UMD also starts four seniors in the secondary, adding to the challenge of their freshman quarterback.
Behind Papilion, the Cougars expect to spread carries between senior Dakota Fiene, freshman Brady Rose and junior Nephi Garcia, and USF will need at least one of them to open things up so Papilion can get the ball in the hands of senior wideout Carrington Hanna, the preseason South Division offensive player of the year.
It’s a big game for UMD, too, as they’ll be looking to prove to their fans that they won’t miss a beat without Nielson. That means USF has to be ready for anything.
“We’re not anticipating a ton of changes or surprises — they’re pretty vanilla, anyway,” Stugart said of UMD. “But it’ll be interesting to see in a first game with a new coach. You never know if they’ll have something you’re not prepared for. But we know their bread and butter has been power football and I anticipate that to be the same on Saturday.”
SIOUX FALLS AT MINNESOTA DULUTH
WHEN/WHERE: 6 P.M. at Malosky Stadium, Duluth, Minn.
RADIO: KWSN-AM 1230
COACHES: USF - Jed Stugart (4th year, 27-7); UMD - Curt Wiese (1st year)
SERIES: First meeting
LAST YEAR: USF was 9-2, UMD was 10-2
RANKINGS: UMD is ranked No. 11 in the AFCA Division II poll