DII Games to watch: Minnesota Duluth riding a 6-game win streak
When Minnesota Duluth senior quarterback Drew Bauer steps on his home field at James Malosky Stadium Saturday afternoon against Bemidji State, his focus, like his teammates, is to go 1-0.
The Bulldogs, 6-1 overall and in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, can’t allow the trappings of this being one of the most highly attractive games in Division II this week to enter their thought process.
“We found that out early this season with the disappointing loss to Southwest,” Bauer said. “We can’t look two weeks in advance. You have to take every day, every practice as an opportunity to get better so you can play your best football on Saturday and come out and execute.”
Without questions, Saturday’s game will garner attention around the country. Minnesota Duluth is ranked 24th in the AFCA Top 25. Its only loss came in the opening week, falling to Southwest Minnesota State 42-38.
Bemidji State is ranked 21, and the Beavers only loss was 37-36 in week four at No. 6 Sioux Falls.
Both teams have been scoring at an impressive rate. The lowest point total for Bemidji State is 31. The fewest Minnesota Duluth has scored so far this season is 34.
“You look around the league right now and there are a lot of quality quarterbacks and offenses,” Minnesota Duluth coach Curt Wiese said. “You look at the scoring output in our conference, there are four or five teams that are close to 40 points or more each week. Bemidji is one of those teams. They have a very talented veteran quarterback similar to us. They have an experienced offensive line and some skill guys on the perimeter.
“Defensively, we have played a good last 10 quarters of football. Our defense is gaining confidence each week. This will be a key to the game on both sides, for us and Bemidji, to have the ability to slow down the offenses and create some turnovers of the defensive side of the football.”
In the last two weeks, the Bulldogs have allowed a total of 26 points and that has put them in good position to win because the offense, behind Bauer, is operating at high level.
Bauer, who has been starting since his freshman season, has thrown for 1,920 yards, 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Four of his receivers have over 300 yards receiving.
Bauer gives credit to the coaches and the schemes they devise each week. And then it comes down to the players, preparing in practice and in the film room.
“Studying helps us know where we are going so we are able to execute on Saturday,” Bauer said. “The better we are able to execute, the more points we are able to put up.”
Minnesota Duluth is a football program that knows how to prepare for big games. The Bulldogs won national championships in 2008 and 2010. They are also the last team to beat defending national champions Northwest Missouri State back on Nov. 22, 2014 in the first round of the playoffs.
Last year, Minnesota Duluth had a solid season by most program’s standards. The Bulldogs finished 9-3, but just missed the playoffs and had to settle for the Mineral Water Bowl.
“Our expectation is to play in the NCAA playoffs,” Wiese said. “It was a disappointing season last year. Also, when you have a season like that, you can learn a lot from things you could have done better from player development and coaching and everything else. It was a good learning experience for all of us and something we have improved upon heading into the season.”
Wiese became the sixth head coach in the program’s history on Dec. 21, 2012. He has led the Bulldogs to the NCAA playoffs in two of his first three seasons.
“One thing we are most proud of as a football program is the culture in the locker room,” Wiese said. “We have tremendous kids in our program.
“We are thankful for all the coaches and players that have come before us for helping to create that. We have been fortunate to sustain that level of culture in the locker room of what our expectations are both on and off the field.”
|2016 Statistics||Bemidji State||Minnesota Duluth|
Bowie State winning with sophomore quarterback
Bowie State sophomore quarterback Amir Hall finished answering most questions with sir. This character trait, in part, explains his success despite his underclassman stature. The road to success for Bowie State, Hall said, is hard work, dedication to the program and respecting authority and listening to the coaches.
“He has really bought into the program,” Bowie State coach Damon Wilson said. “We are in a situation where he doesn’t have to worry about anything but learning his position. Our offensive line are our leaders on the ball club. He doesn’t have to worry about some of the normal situations a quarterback may have to have as far as being that vocal leader. Our O-linemen are our vocal leaders. It allows him to focus on playing quarterback and managing a ball game.”
This dynamic is working well for Bowie State. The Bulldogs have won their last four games and are 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
|2016 Statistics||Bowie State||Virginia Union|
They hit the road for a tough road game at Virginia Union, which is 4-3 and 3-1. Kickoff at Hovey Field is 1 p.m. (ET) Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
“The biggest thing for us is to execute on both sides of the ball,” Hall said. “Sometimes the offense might be down and the defense will pick us back up. Sometimes the defense is down and we will pick those guys up. I think that is the biggest part, executing on both sides of the ball.”
Hall has been doing his part in executing the offense. He has thrown for 2,363 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“It is extremely fun, being around the guys, going on road trips, being at practice, enjoying these moments with the older guys, especially the seniors,” Hall said of the season “It has been a lot of fun.”
This is exactly what Wilson wants student-athletes to get out of his football program.
“For me as the head coach and an alumnus of this university, it is extremely important we continue to graduate student-athletes at a high level and compete at a high level,” Wilson said. “We are family here. We want to have fun, win and graduate together.”
Humboldt State plays at Western Oregon in an ASN televised game
Humboldt State has plenty of incentive to win on Saturday when it travels to Western Oregon in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference game that will be televised on the American Sports Network. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday.
The Lumberjacks have lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2013. Also, Humboldt lost 48-42 to Western Oregon on Sept. 24. Both teams are 3-4.
“They are a team that offensively has been struggling like we've been struggling ourselves so you're going to have two very hungry football teams,” Humboldt coach Rob Smith said on the school’s website. “It's their homecoming and their senior day. There is a good rivalry between Humboldt State and Western Oregon, and we have had some really good battles over the years.”