NCAA FOOTBALL: SMSU looks to rebound against Upper Iowa

MARSHALL – Will he or won’t he?

That’s the question the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs has answered with its quarterback position. Starter Charlie Kern will be in the lineup when SMSU travels to play the Upper Iowa Peacocks at 6 p.m. today in Fayette, Iowa.

“We have Charlie’s knee in a brace; he missed practice Tuesday but was at practice Wednesday and Thursday,” Mustangs head coach Cory Sauter said. “Obviously, his knee is still ginger, but we anticipate that we will start against Upper Iowa. We want to see how he reacts and how well he holds up.”

Kern, a junior who was knocked out of SMSU’s 55-27 loss at home against No. 1-ranked Minnesota State last Saturday, suffered a knee injury after completing a 44-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Tonderum and being hit by a Mavericks’ defender with 12:41 left in the third quarter.

Kern limped off the field with the help of SMSU center Brandon Puffer and was seen leaving the field at the end of the game on crutches seven days ago.

In six-and-a-half games this season, Kern has a quarterback efficiency rating of 140.8 after winning the starting job for the first time in training camp. He has completed 63 percent of his passes (164 of 261) and thrown for 1,897 yards with 17 touchdown and six interceptions.

The amount of Kern’s interceptions is somewhat deceiving. He was picked off three times last Saturday against Minnesota State after entering the game with three interceptions through his first six contests.

If Kern is not able to play the entire game, the Mustangs will turn over the keys of their high-powered offense to sophomore backup Chris Stemen, who took over for Kern in the second half against the Mavericks.

Stemen, who received his first amount of playing time this season, filled in admirably, completing 15 of 25 passes for 181 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating ended up being 123.2.

Kern and Stemen both will benefit from having quite a few offensive weapons around them.

Running back Tyler Tonderum has produced 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns in just seven games this season. He ranks second in the nation in yardage among NCAA Division II rushers.

Seven different SMSU receivers have caught 10 or more passes in 2013, including Anthony Dean (33), Britt Wickett (29), Jordan Cross (27), Cody Condon (26), Tonderum (24), Adam Olson (21) and Will Kurka (10).

Dean, who missed most last Saturday’s contest against MSU with an injury on the first play from scrimmage, is expected to be back on the field against Upper Iowa today. Dean was the SMSU player who made a touchdown-saving tackle after Patrick Schmidt intercepted Kern.

The Mustangs have an offense that averages 546.3 total yards and 38.4 points per game.

The SMSU scoring attack is rated fifth in the nation in Division II. Southwest Minnesota State’s defense gives up 418.7 yards and 36.3 points on average.

Upper Iowa brings a defensive attack that ranks 14th in the nation by allowing 300.1 total yards and 24.1 points. The Peacocks (4-3 overall, 1-2 NSIC South) are 19th nationally by giving up just 100.4 rushing yards per game.

“Our whole philosophy this year has been to do what we do, to do it very well and do it fast,” Sauter said of the Mustang offense. “I feel last week’s game (against Minnesota State) was out of character for us, especially with the turnovers. Other than that, we were able to move the ball (against the Mavericks).”

Sauter said the Peacocks are unique because they run a defense most NSIC teams are not familiar with.

“They run a 3-3 Stack, which is basically three down linemen, three linebackers stacked right in behind those guys,” Sauter said. “It’s just something that we haven’t seen yet this year. I think there isn’t another NSIC team that runs a defense like this.”

On offense, UIU averages 487.6 yards and 27.4 points. The Peacocks enter today’s game off a 35-6 loss against Augustana last Saturday in Sioux Falls.

UIU has a potent offensive attack, which is led by quarterback Cole Jaeschke (169 of 281, 2,036 yards, 14 TDs, 11 INTs) and running back Chris Smith (182 carries, 1,090 yards, 10 TDs).

Four different Upper Iowa receivers have caught 30 or more passes, including Lucas Hefty (43), Keaton Hosch (37), Derek Giesking (35) and Shay Gutman (30).