A week after suffering a 52-0 throttling at the hands of then-No. 9 Minnesota Duluth, the Minot State University football team is looking to pick up its second win of the season at perennial Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference bottom-feeder Minnesota Crookston.
The Golden Eagles (2-5 overall, 2-1 NSIC North) are the only conference team with a worse average scoring margin (minus-27) than the Beavers (minus-24).
But Crookston has won two of its last three games, including a 20-14 victory over Minnesota State-Moorhead last Saturday. The Beavers are on a five-game skid, but MSU coach Paul Rudolph said he isn't placing more importance on today's 1 p.m. contest than any other.
Minot State University freshman tailback Jarvis Mustipher carries the ball against Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 19. Photo courtesy of Clint Austin/Duluth News Tribune.
"We just need to play better," Rudolph said. "As much as we've struggled, we should be worried about ourselves."
The Beavers' biggest struggles have come in the run game. MSU (1-6, 0-3) rushed for minus-35 yards against Duluth and is averaging a league-low 68 rushing yards per game.
The Golden Eagles allow 281 rushing yards per contest, but the Beavers will need better ball security to take advantage. MSU has lost a league-high 15 fumbles, including five last week against Duluth.
"The next thing is recruit different players," Rudolph said when asked how to address the fumbling problem. "We've done everything you can possibly do."
Crookston's field is torn up after several rain games played by the Golden Eagles and an area high school team. Traction may be an issue and Rudolph said he is prepared with two game plans depending on what the field will allow.
Golden Eagles interim coach Mike Fritze said the combination of cold weather and no rain there this week has hardened the turf, and he expects the surface to be "pretty playable."
Crookston's offense is predicated on balance. Two running backs - Talo Pascal and Keith McBride - average 50 or more rushing yards per game, and true freshman quarterback Kyle Larson completed passes to nine different receivers in the win against Moorhead. Six players record more than 15 receiving yards per game, led by freshman wideout Keoni Piceno at 33.
"(Larson is) getting better by the week and he spreads the ball around a lot," Fritze said. "It's a pretty diversified offense in that not a lot of the offense is based on one guy, and that's good."
On defense, the Golden Eagles are in their first year of running a 4-2-5 scheme. Fritze said the alignment - which replaces a linebacker with an extra safety - allows for more speed on the field.
MSU senior nose guard Luke Artz said the Beavers still feel like they can reel off a few wins this season. MSU will be a heavy underdog at No. 22 St. Cloud State (6-1), but has remaining home contests against scuffling teams in Moorhead (1-6) and Bemidji State (2-5).
But any sort of turnaround must start today.
"It would really snap our season around and work on building for next season a little bit, too," Artz said. "It's really important to get this next game."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.