MSU to face No. 9 Duluth’s potent rushing attack

The Minot State University football team doesn’t have any revolutionary ideas for slowing down No. 9 Minnesota Duluth’s dominant rushing attack.

When the teams kick off at 1:05 p.m. today in Duluth, the Beavers will stick to their gap-control 3-4 defense and focus on execution to limit Division II’s sixth-best rushing offense. Duluth averages 321 yards per game on the ground, the most in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

“Obviously, we gotta win some gaps and be able to tackle,” MSU coach Paul Rudolph said. “They’re a good, quality football team. They got O-linemen that are big and athletic and running backs that run mean.”

Junior running back Austin Sikorski leads a balanced rushing effort with 117 yards per contest. Sophomore tailback Logan Lauters averages 80 yards per game and 6-foot-2, 220-pound freshman quarterback Drew Bauer runs for 72 yards per outing.

“Both of them are pretty explosive through the hole,” Duluth first-year head coach Curt Wiese said of Sikorski and Lauters. “Both can make people miss and break tackles. We treat them as 1A and 1B and rotate throughout the game.”

Duluth averages 6.4 yards per rush, with Sikorski and Lauters each netting 7 yards per attempt.

“Our main thing is definitely taking up gaps and limiting opportunities for their running backs to try to hit big plays,” said MSU senior nose guard Logan Jones, who leads the Beavers with seven tackles for loss. “We’re just trying to take up double teams, take up blocks so our ‘backers get a free run.”

Duluth (5-1 overall, 2-0 NSIC North) is one of the signature programs of the NSIC and the highest-ranked team the Beavers (1-5, 0-2) will face this season. Since Wiese took over as offensive coordinator in 2008, the Bulldogs have made the NCAA Division II playoffs every season and won two national championships (2008 and 2010). A lot of that success is due to stellar offensive fronts, Wiese said.

“It’s been consistent here over the last six years,” he said. “Our offensive line has been pretty healthy and athletic. We continue to put an emphasis on that with each recruiting class, finding guys with size and athleticism who are passionate about the game of football.”

Senior linebacker Chad Marshall, who leads the team with 54 tackles, said the Beavers are excited for the challenge.

“It’s always more fun when you can strap up and you’re playing a team that everybody in the country knows about,” he said. “Duluth’s a big-time name. They have been for quite a few years and we’d like to go out there and, for lack of a better word, smack ’em in the mouth.”

The Bulldogs also boast a strong rushing defense, allowing 101.8 yards per game – the second-least in the NSIC. Duluth is weaker against the pass, allowing 231 yards per game through the air.

MSU runs a pass-heavy offense, but Rudolph said the Beavers will need balance to consistently move the chains.

“(Our receivers) match up pretty good with just about everybody in the league,” Rudolph said. “You still have to have a semblance of a run game. It’s pretty tough to just try to sell out and throw it every down.”

Marshall said the Beavers can’t miss many assignments if they want to stick with the Bulldogs, who are outscoring opponents by 22 points per game.

“It’s 11 guys being in the right spot at the right time,” Marshall said. “If we do that like some of the times that we’ve shown we can, we can go out and play with these guys.”

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.