College football: UMD pushing for perfection
While it was another rout, Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese acknowledged Thursday's 41-17 victory at St. Cloud State was far from perfect. There was a missed extra point and a roughing-the-punter penalty on special teams, no quarterback...
While it was another rout, Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese acknowledged Thursday's 41-17 victory at St. Cloud State was far from perfect.
There was a missed extra point and a roughing-the-punter penalty on special teams, no quarterback sacks registered by the defense and 162 rushing yards by the offense. That might sound good, but it took 45 carries to get there, and a 3.6 yard per-carry average doesn't sit well with the Bulldogs.
Wiese knows No. 11 UMD (3-0) needs to be sharper going into Saturday's 6:05 p.m. home clash with NSIC North rival Bemidji State (3-0).
"I was happy with the outcome of the game, I thought our guys played hard all night, but there are a lot of things in all three phases that we can learn from," Wiese said. "This was the first game where we faced some adversity. We gave up some plays defensively, and offensively we got slowed down and turned the ball over a little bit. And some of our special teams stuff we can get cleaned up as well. There's things we can work on."
The sluggishness by both teams was understandable given it was a short week of preparation. On the flip side, UMD gets additional time to prepare for a Bemidji State team that has outscored opponents by an average of 58-6, including back-to-back shutouts.
"I thought we prepared hard, but it's tough to turn around a clean football game on a Thursday night," Wiese said. "We have a lot of bumps and bruises, guys who didn't practice much this week, so a lot of it was walk-through tempo all week, so to come out and execute full speed and be flawless is a tough thing to do."
Sophomore quarterback John Larson led the way by throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns, connecting with eight receivers, while adding 27 rushing yards and another score. Wiese said it'd be running back by committee, and he wasn't kidding as six UMD players rushed for at least 10 yards but nobody reached 40.
"I thought John played well," Wiese said. "He created some plays out the pocket and continues to do a good job extending plays, but we need to be able to rush the football better. That was a little bit disappointing. We got in some situations where we need to be able to close the game out running it and we weren't able to do that, but again, those are things we can learn from moving on."
Now to some more positives ...
UMD's goal is to convert at least 50 percent of its third-down tries and keep the opponent below 50 percent. Senior linebacker Gus Wedig, who led the Bulldogs with seven tackles - including two for loss and a forced fumble - said that challenge should be stiffened, and Saturday is an argument for that. UMD converted 10 of 18 third downs while holding the Huskies to just 2 of 12.
"Nice," Wedig said upon hearing of St. Cloud's third-down stat line. "I like that. That's pretty good. I think we need to cut that 50 percent down a little bit because right now our defense is playing phenomenally on third down. That's our emphasis. When we come out on the field everyone yells 'three or less.' We're either trying to get a takeaway or a three-and-out every series."
St. Cloud State was just 8-for-25 passing for 105 yards, with a touchdown and an interception by UMD senior Tareq Abulebbeh, a graduate transfer from Southern Illinois who leads the Bulldogs with two this season. UMD felt the Huskies pushed off on at least one of those receptions, and Abulebbeh was called for pass interference late in the game, but other than that, in was an impressive outing for the secondary.
"Sometimes depending on the reffing crew, it's hard for our corners to play as physical as we want them to," Wedig said. "We're putting them out on an island, but we've got all the faith in the world in them. I wouldn't take any other guys. They're phenomenal."
Going into the St. Cloud State game, UMD was tied with Davenport University (Mich.) in NCAA Division II for the No. 1 scoring defense, allowing just five points per game. At 9.0 ppg, the Bulldogs slipped to a tie for fourth this week - Bemidji State leads the nation at 5.7 - but clearly, they're aiming high just two seasons after yielding a program record for points.
"When we're in the weight room or at practice, we make sure to keep telling each other, 'Hey, you got to be the best defense in the nation,' " Wedig said. "You have to keep telling yourself that. You have to play confident, and we are."