Shootout likely when Beavers host Moorhead

A quick glance at this season’s Minnesota State-Moorhead football results conveys one obvious truth: The Dragons are prone to shootouts.

Moorhead is fourth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in scoring (38.5 points per game) and total offense (456 yards per game). But the Dragons have given up even bigger numbers – surrendering league highs in points (43.1 ppg) and yards (499 ypg).

When Moorhead (2-6 overall, 2-2 NSIC North) brings its high-scoring, high-yielding bunch to Herb Parker Stadium today, it will be up to Minot State to record timely stops and keep pace with the Dragons.

“We know we’re going to have to score some points. Last week, I felt like we kind of squandered some opportunities in the red zone and we gotta be better,” said MSU sophomore quarterback Zac Cunha, referring to the Beavers’ 20-19 win over Minnesota Crookston. “We were in a position to score a lot of points and we didn’t finish, so we’ve gotta finish this week.”

MSU freshman Jarvis Mustipher’s 27-carry, 126-yard performance against Crookston was an encouraging sign for the Beavers (2-6, 1-3). MSU ranks last in the league in rushing, but establishing a ground game will be important to keep Moorhead’s potent offense on the sideline.

“There’s no doubt we’ve gotta do our part offensively to make sure we don’t go three-and-out,” MSU coach Paul Rudolph said. “Whether running the ball or throwing the ball, we’ve gotta be able to control the football.”

Opponents have been able to push around an undersized Moorhead defensive front all season to the tune of 283 rushing yards per game. The average weight of the Dragons’ four defensive linemen is 245 pounds, compared to a 300-pound average for MSU’s five starting offensive linemen.

Still, Rudolph wouldn’t say his offensive line has a significant edge in that matchup.

“We haven’t been consistent enough for me to say that we’re going to have an advantage on anything,” Rudolph said. “I think our biggest key is to say that we’ve gotta maintain control of the football, attempt to move it and score points.”

The Moorhead offense has put up stellar numbers this season despite starting just two juniors and no seniors. Sophomore quarterback Jake Hodge leads the NSIC in total offense at 347 yards per contest.

“He’s an extremely accurate thrower, not just hitting the open guy, but hitting the open guy in stride or hitting the open guy on a shoulder that turns him away from a tackler,” Moorhead coach Steve Laqua said. “I think he’s done a great job of ad-libbing, whether that’s running around or giving himself time to make plays out of nothing.”

Hodge’s favorite target, 6-foot-2 sophomore Adam Jiskra, averages nearly six catches and 91 yards per game.

“He does a great job adjusting to balls,” Laqua said. “He’s got great body skills and body control. He’s done a great job of learning how to pick up yards after the catch. … Certainly he’s a much more polished receiver than he was last year.”

Laqua said he’s concerned with MSU’s front seven, which surrounds stocky defensive linemen with speedy, playmaking linebackers.

“They’re playing hard, they’re doing some things that causes teams problems, so I think that’s a group that’s concerning for us,” Laqua said. “We’ve had to rely on our offense to score points, so if you’re going up against a solid defense – one that’s got a very formidable defensive line – that’s always a concern for a coach.”

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