Week 6 of the 2020 DII college football season features five games. But for the first time year, MIAA teams will take the field with Pittsburg State hosting Nebraska-Kearney on Saturday, Oct. 31. Carnie Smith Stadium is sold out at 25 percent capacity as two of the league's highest scoring teams kick off their season. Here's what you need to know ahead of the game.
Pittsburg State vs. Nebraska-Kearney: Preview
Pittsburg State and Nebraska-Kearney meet for the 23rd time on Saturday, Oct. 31. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET from Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg, Kansas. The teams first met in 1974, though this is just the eighth time they've played since 1988. The Gorillas hold a 15-7 edge in the series and have won 12 straight over the Lopers going back to 1984. Nebraska-Kearney had a chance to get back in the win column last year before PSU scored 27 unanswered points in a 37-14 win.
This game features two of the MIAA's top offenses from a year ago as both teams averaged more than 35 points per game. However, both teams could look much different this season.
First-year head coach Brian Wright will call plays at Pittsburg State following a four-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Toledo. The Rockets won the MAC Championship in 2018 and led the conference in scoring last year under Wright's system. He will be joined on the sidelines by new defensive coordinator Tom Anthony, who comes to the Gorillas after stops at Texas Southern and Western Illinois.
Nebraska-Kearney returns head coach Josh Lynn and defensive coordinator Scott Lewis, but Saturday will be offensive coordinator Drew Thatcher's first game with the Lopers. He spent seven years coaching at the junior college level, having previously worked with two of UNK's 2019 all-league players.
With a couple of new offensive systems on display, here are few players you should keep an eye out for on Saturday:
T.J. Davis, Nebraska-Kearney quarterback
There might not be a more versatile offensive player on the field Saturday than Davis. The Lopers' dual-threat quarterback is equally efficient running the ball as he is with his arm. Davis was the 2019 MIAA Freshman of the Year after throwing for 861 yards and nine touchdowns on top of another 1,034 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Defenses could key in on him this year, but redshirt senior running back Dayton Sealey is a capable runner as well (705 rushing yards, 8.2 yards per carry) and figures to take on a bigger role with David Goodwin and Darrius Webb gone.
Jacey Nutter, Nebraska-Kearney linebacker
Replacing linebacker Sal Silvio's production from 2019 won't be easy. But Nutter appears poised to step into Silvio's role as the heartbeat of the Lopers' defense. A year ago, he finished third on UNK in tackles (62) and tackles for loss (7.5) while adding a pair of pass breakups and quarterback hurries. Both Nutter and senior Quinn Brummer could see a majority of snaps at the linebacker position this year. Look for Nutter, who hasn't made an All-MIAA team yet, to take a big step forward this season.
Tyler Adkins, Pittsburg State running back
The Gorillas used a three-pronged rushing attack last year between Adkins, Tucker Horak, and Brandon Mlekus. With Mlekus moving back to the defensive side of the ball, Adkins' role could grow much larger in 2020. He ran for 640 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior in a crowded backfield. He might be counted on to be the lead ballcarrier and a constant in head coach Brian Wright's offense as there are still some questions as to who will start at quarterback for the Gorillas.
Brandon Mlekus, Pittsburg State safety
In two years at Pitt State, Mlekus has shown an ability to play on both sides of the ball. After making 10 appearances in 2018 as a defensive back, Mlekus became one of the more versatile weapons in the Gorillas offensive scheme. He made 10 starts at quarterback, throwing six touchdowns while running for 613 yards and six more scores on the ground, leading PSU in carries. Mlekus moved to safety for the 2020 season and could be lined up in different places to best utilize his versatility in coordinator Tom Anthony's defense.