NCAA FOOTBALL: Mustangs, Wildcats playing to reach .500

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs have a new week and a new challenge today when they travel to play the Wayne State Wildcats.

Kickoff for this Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division game is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Cunningham Field.

SMSU head coach Cory Sauter showed optimism Thursday after practice at The Schwan Regional Event Center.

“It’s been a good week of work because the weather has been great and that has allowed us to get out here every day. The guys have been spirited and ready to work.” Sauter said.

The Mustangs and the Wildcats are both playing to reach the .500 mark, but have extremely different offensive strategies.

“We’re 2-3 and trying to get to .500 and Wayne State is 2-3 and trying to do the same thing,” Sauter said. “Hopefully, we can put it all together. We have been so close the last couple of weeks. This could be a big week for us.”

SMSU is 0-1 against the NSIC South after last Saturday’s 55-48 home loss to Sioux Falls. Wayne State enters this game 1-0 in the NSIC South after a 10-7 road victory a week ago at Augustana.

Sauter believes the Wildcats will come out running.

“We expect for them to run the football,” Sauter said of Wayne State’s offense. “They have banked on their power run game. So, our goal is stop their run. If we do that, I think we will have an opportunity to be successful.”

Charlie Davidson leads the Wayne State rushing attack with 580 yards and four touchdowns on 131 carries. Zach Osborn is the Wildcats’ quarterback and has completed 61 of 130 passes for 1,080 yards with 10 TDs and four interceptions.

Wayne State’s featured receivers include Tonev Abraham (27 receptions, 445 yards, four touchdowns) and Adam Stark (10 receptions, 349 yards, three touchdowns).

WSU averages 132.8 rushing yards per game and allows 149.4. The Wildcats average 216.6 passing yards and allow 215.8.

The Mustangs will counter with Tyler Tonderum (149 carries, 1,056 yards, 12 TDs), who leads Division II on the ground with 211.2 yards per game.

He has also caught 18 passes for 156 yards.

SMSU quarterback Charlie Kern has thrown for 1,392 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.

His stable of wideouts include five receivers with at least 17 catches – Anthony Dean (26), Britt Wickett (20), Jordan Cross (18), Tonderum (18) and Cody Condon (17). Dean has hauled in eight TD passes.

The Mustangs average 288.4 rushing yards per game and allow 224.4. SMSU averages 278.4 passing yards and allows 200.2.

Sauter expressed concern for combatting Wayne State’s defense.

“They have a very established defense that has done well,” Sauter said. “When you talk about them winning 10-7 (last Saturday at Augustana). If you can allow only seven points in this conference, that almost never happens. They are going to make it difficult for us. We have to make sure that we stay out of third-and-longs and protect the football.”

Four Wildcats have 31 tackles or more – Nick Monzu (34), Samuel Chase (32), Nathan Scott (31 with four sacks) and Tyson McGill (31 with four sacks).

Ben Radel has made two interceptions. Wayne State has broken up 26 passes this season.

The Mustangs counter with A.J. Page (55 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks), Tate Bunkers (38 tackles), Jared Twedt (37 tackles, two interceptions), Blake Pennock (37 tackles, one fumble recovery), J.J. Bobrowicz (33 tackles, two sacks) and Donovan Woods (29 tackles, two interceptions). SMSU has broken up 10 passes this year.

“If we can get teams in passing situations, we have some guys who can rush the passer. We want to get our opponents in long-yardage situations and force them to do things that they don’t want to do.”