Morningside may be tough, but its not unlike DSUMorningside, Dickinson State head football coach Hank Biesiot said, is not an easy team to prepare to play.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Morningside, Dickinson State head football coach Hank Biesiot said, is not an easy team to prepare to play.
There’s no arguing that.
The No. 7-ranked Mustangs (9-1) will put the second-best defense in the NAIA and a potent offense on the field against the No. 9-ranked Blue Hawks (9-1) when the teams meet for the first time at noon Saturday in the opening round of the NAIA playoffs at Elwood Olsen Stadium in Sioux City, Iowa.
“Our guys have been burning the candle — early morning and late evening — just trying to get all those formations down on the board and, more importantly than that, getting the guys familiar with what they’re going to see,” Biesiot said.
Morningside not only brings a defense that is allowing 10.1 points and 226 yards per game — second and third in the NAIA, respectively — it has an offense that averages 35.6 points and 419 yards per game.
Those numbers alone make the Mustangs the best team DSU has faced this season.
“It’ll be an eye-opener in the first quarter for sure,” DSU senior linebacker Jason Kraft said. “I’m excited to go against a better offense from a different conference that we haven’t played — ever — and show what we can do.”
Though Morningside’s offense has been stellar this season, coaches on both sides believe the game could possibly turn into a defensive struggle.
“I expect it to be a game that either they’re going to home on a bus or we’re going to be sitting here in Sioux City and we’re going to be talking about three plays,” Morningside head coach Steve Ryan said. “I think it’s going to be one of those games. It’s going to go right down to the end.”
DSU trails Morningside slightly on the defensive charts, giving up 261.4 yards and 12.7 points a game, which is third best in the nation.
Then there are the numbers in the clutch.
Morningside’s defense has allowed just one fourth-down conversion in its opponents’ 15 tries this season, the NAIA’s best rate.
Meanwhile, DSU’s offense is second in the nation converting fourth-down tries. The Blue Hawks are 10 of 13 and two of those were late in decided games as they opted to go for it in a short field with backups.
“We can’t panic,” Biesiot said. “We’ve got to take their best charge. You aren’t going to get anything easy. You’ve got to exhibit some patience. You talk about a team as fundamental as they are, you’ve got to fire back with some of your own.”
What could stymie the Blue Hawks, however, is the Mustangs’ second-ranked run defense. They’ve given up just 67.2 yards rushing per game and five touchdowns.
But is that going to stop Biesiot and the Blue Hawks from trying to set things up with the run? Heck no!
“We have to get some balance,” Biesiot said.
Still, with freshman running back Brennan Haughian nursing an ankle injury suffered in the regular-season against Black Hills State, trying to pound the ball against the Mustangs might not be DSU’s best option.
Biesiot said going to senior quarterback Cody Holland and its potent play-action pass is one way DSU may be able to get past Morningside.
“We aren’t going to change anything, and I think anybody would be a bit remiss if they thought we were going to make changes here,” Biesiot said. “We’re going to do the same basic things that got us here.”
The same is true defensively, though Morningside’s offense is similar to those the Blue Hawks have struggled against in the past two seasons: a mixture of a precise passing system coupled with a quick running back.
“To be real honest with you, I don’t know if we’ve played anybody this year that has the same mentality,” DSU defensive coordinator Arlan Hofland said. “They’re looking to control the ball game, control the clock and move it downfield.
“They’ll take whatever you give them, but they’re not going to spread it out and make you defend the whole field. They’re going to come at you and say, ‘This is what we do. We do it well. Try and stop us.’”
Defensively, the teams are similar in that their depth of talent allows them to spread the wealth.
“For us to win Saturday, we’ve got to play well defensively, and I would expect it’s the same thing for Dickinson,” Ryan said.
Senior outside linebacker Bodie Tobin leads DSU with 62 tackles with several players still in the running for the season-ending lead. Senior linebacker Marshall Tuttle has 69 tackles to lead the Mustangs.
Both teams have quite a few interceptions — Morningside has 19 to DSU’s 15 — but just like their tackle numbers, the work is spread out. DSU senior cornerback Derion Williams has four interceptions while the Mustangs have two players with four.
DSU has 19½ sacks and Morningside has 19.
“You can watch film all you want, but you don’t know how good the other team is,” DSU senior defensive tackle Luke Steiner said. “I’m just going to assume they’re a pretty solid defense. They’re a pretty good team.”