Minot State University football coach Paul Rudolph is reciting a familiar refrain ahead of the Beavers' home game at 2:30 p.m. today against Northern State.
"We've gotta stop the run and not give up big plays," Rudolph said. "If we can stop the run and not give up big plays (and) keep the ball, we'll always have a chance."
The blueprint for success hasn't changed. The execution is what's been lacking for the Beavers (1-4), who are coming off a 45-10 loss at the University of Mary. MSU ranks last in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in turnovers (18) and sacks allowed (25).
Minot State University senior left guard Kyle Stein blocks in front of sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha during the Beavers’ loss to the University of Mary on Oct. 5 in Bismarck. Photo courtesy of Michael Linnell/MSU sports information.
Northern State (1-4) is in a similar rut, allowing a league-worst 523 yards per game.
"It's really been big plays that have gotten us," Northern State coach Tom Dosch said. "Consistency, that's probably the biggest thing we're looking for right now. I know most coaches in America would probably say the same thing, but we really play well for stretches and then give up big plays. As a result, it hurts your confidence and we haven't been playing with the confidence that we've had the last couple years."
The Wolves finished 6-5 last season, including a 31-17 victory over the Beavers at home.
Northern State plays a blitz-heavy 3-4 defense, which will test the struggling MSU offense.
"They like to bring five-, six-, seven-man pressure," MSU senior left guard Kyle Stein said. "They're not the biggest defense in terms of size, but they like to bring pressure and they're gonna get after it."
Said sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha: "They're gonna be really aggressive on defense and try to disguise a lot. We've just gotta make the right calls and put the ball where it's supposed to go."
On offense, the Wolves run a lot of read-option plays that highlight the abilities of dual-threat quarterback Jared Jacobson. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound junior is leading Northern State with 61 rushing yards per game and has completed 77 of 169 passes for 896 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"We've seen some of it before, but they really take (the read-option) to a different level," Rudolph said. "They read just about everybody on the front seven at some point in time. It's a good package."
The Beavers are determined not to let another game get away from them early. In each of MSU's four losses, the opposing team led by two or more scores before the Beavers got on the scoreboard.
"I think the last couple weeks we've been out of our comfort zone real early in the game," Cunha said. "We just gotta stick to our offense and do what we know we can do. We're capable of scoring points."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.