Opposing coaches have been extremely complimentary of Minot State University's defense this season.
After the Beavers (0-4) lost to Upper Iowa last weekend, Peacocks coach Tom Shea called MSU's front seven "probably the best" in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The week before, University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) coach Jed Stugart said the Beavers were the most physical team the Cougars had seen in their first three games.
The numbers tell a different story.
Minot State University senior cornerback Laron Peoples awaits a snap during a practice earlier this season at Herb Parker Stadium. The MSU secondary faces a University of Mary offense today that is averaging more than 320 passing yards per game.
The Beavers are giving up 33 points and 385 yards of total offense per game. So why the disconnect between opposing coaches' comments and the actual production of the MSU defense?
MSU has simply given up too many big plays. In the Beavers' last three games, they've allowed five passing touchdowns of greater than 35 yards, including three against USF. Allowing those plays can make an otherwise sound defense look bad - and lose ballgames.
"If you take out five, six snaps per game, we're a heckuva lot better," MSU defensive coordinator Joe Ford said. "We've let too many balls over our head, both at corner and safety. When you play that position you don't get judged on your good plays, you get judged on your bad ones."
1988MSU 42, Mary 22
1989MSU 28, Mary 24
1990MSU 26, Mary 7
1991MSU 21, Mary 7
1992Mary 26, MSU 23
1993MSU 27, Mary 24
1993*Mary 31, MSU 20
1994MSU 31, Mary 24
1995Mary 14, MSU 7
1996MSU 23, Mary 7
1997MSU 21, Mary 7
1998Mary 36, MSU 12
1999Mary 41, MSU 10
2000Mary 45, MSU 6
2001Mary 43, MSU 38
2002MSU 35, Mary 21
2002*Mary 21, MSU 18
2003Mary 27, MSU 6
2004Mary 13, MSU 7
2005MSU 14, Mary 10
(home games in bold)
The Beaver secondary could be exposed today against the University of Mary, which runs a pass-happy pro-style offense. The Marauders (3-1) have passed on 57 percent of their offensive snaps this season.
"It's right in their wheelhouse," Ford said. "We don't defend the pass real well and they don't run the ball."
Mary will have a new quarterback leading the offense, as junior Craig Bagnell is out with a back injury. Zach Roberson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman, will make his first start.
All-American senior receiver Tyler Steffan is averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game.
"From what I know, it's mostly a passing game," MSU junior linebacker/defensive back Jeff Buchert said. "This game is gonna rely heavy on us. We're doing a couple things that should limit them and confuse them, so we're hoping to get a couple turnovers and we wanna bring this first 'W' here."
The teams, former rivals in the Dakota Athletic Conference, haven't played since 2005. Minot won the game to move the series to 10-10 all-time.
"It's nice being a 100-mile game, especially in this league where there are some long trips," Mary coach Myron Schulz said. "Our fans can make it to the game. It just all comes together for a good football atmosphere."
The teams will play in front of a statewide television audience, as NBC North Dakota is broadcasting the game live.
"Any time you get a game on TV, there's advertising that goes into it," MSU head coach Paul Rudolph said "If you got a team that runs around and gets excited about things, that's a positive connotation. That's what we strive for."
The Beavers are also striving for limiting opponents' long touchdown plays, something that has flummoxed the MSU coaching staff thus far.
"If I knew how to not give up big plays, we'd have 11 better players than they had," Rudolph said. "You don't drop back in practice and throw up bomb, after bomb, after bomb. Some of it sits with (the players). They just gotta play better."