DSU's defense looking for improvement
If there is one facet of the Dickinson State football team expected to step up its game this weekend, it's the defense.
With the possibility of starting another season 0-3 and limiting its playoff chances, the Blue Hawks know exactly what a good performance by their defense would mean in today's game against Jamestown College.
"I think this game could be the season right here," said junior linebacker Jason Kraft, who is second on the team with 18 tackles.
"Last year, we came back from an 0-3 start, but we can't do that again. We can't do that again because right now it's conference. We have to come in and win this game and get a positive head start on the conference."
Last season the Blue Hawks lost all three of its nonconference games and didn't win until its Dakota Athletic Conference opener, when it beat Jamestown 24-20 on Sept. 27. That victory sparked a seven-game win streak -- all against DAC opponents -- that led to DSU winning its first outright conference championship since 2003.
However, the defense hasn't been nearly as punishing as it was last year when it gave up a conference-best 313 yards per game.
In losses to Rocky Mountain College and Wisconsin-Whitewater -- arguably the two most talented offenses DSU will play this season -- the Blue Hawks gave up 1,047 total yards, including 779 yards passing.
"We can't give up 500 yards a game and expect to win," DSU head coach Hank Biesiot said.
Kraft said last week's open date allowed the Blue Hawks more time to make tweaks and improvements to their schemes.
"I think this break that we've had, we've really got some things down and we're really starting to look pretty good," Kraft said.
Lineman O'Connor out indefinitely with mono
Sophomore left guard Ry O'Connor, who is in his second year starting on the offensive line, will not play today after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.
The loss of O'Connor isn't good for an offense that is in need of its somewhat veteran line to step up.
"We don't know how long he's had it," Biesiot said of O'Connor's illness. "He won't play."
Freshmen Darwyn Walker and Kyle Enebo will be playing at left guard with Walker moving from the backup center spot to get the start against the Jimmies.
Biesiot said he had hoped to keep Walker at center, a position that has yet to be truly locked down between Walker and starter Doug Staley. But because of O'Connor's illness, Biesiot said he'll likely keep Staley in the middle throughout the game so he can put Walker to better use.
Staley, a redshirt freshman, believes the line won't be greatly affected by the loss of O'Connor and thinks things are beginning to come together for the unit.
"We've just got to keep working hard and make sure everyone's on the same page," Staley said. "We're a good team. We're just kind of struggling a little bit at the beginning, that's all."
Jamestown still trying to find groove offensively
While DSU is facing its share of offensive woes, it's playing a team that also isn't doing as much as it wants offensively.
Jamestown coach Bud Etzold, who was a DSU assistant from 1982 to 1990, sees many similarities between his team and the Blue Hawks.
For instance, both teams have veteran receivers and running backs paired with a first-year quarterback.
Jamestown replaced all-DAC quarterback Josh Kittell with junior college All-American Mike Beehler, who has thrown for 320 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions in two losses.
Still, Etzold is pleased with Beehler's transition and said he has seen improvements from his four-interception performance in a 23-11 season-opening loss against Peru State (Neb.) and last week's tough 24-14 defeat against Wisconsin-Stout.
"You feel like he's going to be very confident in crucial situations," Etzold said.
Starting cornerback and returner Derion Williams' status is uncertain for today's game after bruising his tailbone while slipping on the turf in practice earlier this week. ... Most of the players who were out with the stomach flu earlier in the week, including defensive linemen Jamie Walker and John Tuchscherer, are back in the lineup. ... DSU holds a slight edge in series between the long-time rivals, 33-32-2. ... All of DSU's points have been scored by receiver Blaine Berg (six) or kicker Cole Zamira (four).