Author Topic: Sizing up Upper Iowa and Concordia-St. Paul  (Read 669 times)

chhaterdhari

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Sizing up Upper Iowa and Concordia-St. Paul
« on: November 07, 2014, 07:01:55 PM »

I've spent most of this week alternating between covering high school football playoffs, working on college basketball previews, and finishing a story I've been working on for over a month, a feature on USF running back Nephi Garcia, chronicling his personal journey to overcome the death of his mother and murder of his brother while carrying the Cougar ground game. I got to spend a lot of time with Nephi and his wife, Jasmine, this week, and they're a pretty special couple. You'll definitely want to set aside some time Sunday to read my story.

However, as you may have guessed, this preamble also doubles as an excuse for me to be short again with this week's breakdown blog. There's only so many hours in a week and I'm not getting paid overtime for this.

Upper Iowa at USF

A couple weeks ago this looked like a sure blowout for the Cougars, as the Peacocks squandered their 5-0 start with three straight losses, due in part to the loss of running back Chris Smith. But Smith returned last week and the Peacocks routed Wayne State 58-29.

At 6-3, UIU is still very much alive for the Mineral Water Bowl (though obviously it'll be tough with them playing USF this week and Mankato next), and their offense is ultra-dangerous with a healthy Smith. He averages 156 yards per game and almost seven yards per carry. And when he's in there, it makes the Peacock passing game that much more dangerous. QB Cole Jaeschke is one of the most prolific passers in NSIC history, and he has a multitude of targets to work with in Shay Gutman (60 catches, 766 yards), Derek Giesking (77 catches) and tight end Lucas Hefty (54 catches, 593 yards).

If Smith is anywhere close to 100 percent, I'd expect the Peacocks to put up some points on the Cougars. The last time they came to Bob Young Field, they fell behind 37-0 before rallying to get within a score at 47-41. Jaeschke threw for 606 yards in that game, with Gutman catching 12 passes for 181 yards. USF coach Jed Stugart said he believes that even in defeat, that game was a turning point for UIU, as they'd go on to post their first winning season in Division II the next year, which included a win over the Cougars in Fayette.

But while the Peacocks are dangerous, I don't see them winning this one, in large part because of the fact that USF is now outside the playoff picture, at 7th in the regional rankings. If USF hadn't dropped out of the top six, I could see them taking these last two games somewhat lightly, assuming that a playoff berth was assured. Now that they're on the outside looking in, I expect them to be as focused and motivated as ever.

Not to mention, as dangerous as UIU's offense is, their defense isn't one of the league's best. They can create takeaways (just ask Augustana), but as long as USF doesn't make a ton of mistakes, I expect them to outscore the Peacocks in a mini-shootout.

Zim's prediction: Cougars 44, Peacocks 28

Augustana at Concordia-St. Paul

As further evidence of how much stronger the South Division is than the North, the Golden Bears qualify as a 'bottom-feeder' in their division. The North has Crookston, Minot and Moorhead, and I'm not so sure that Concordia isn't better than St. Cloud, Bemidji State, Northern and Mary. They lost to Northern in a game they should've won, then dug themselves an 18-3 hole against Mary in a one-score loss. They opened the year with a 20-13 loss to undefeated Duluth.

When the Golden Bears lost three straight blowouts to USF, Wayne and Mankato, however, it looked like maybe the close losses had beaten them down and they were ready to pack it in. Instead, they've rallied for a pair of nice wins over Upper Iowa and SMSU. They'll host the Vikings this week, then visit Winona State in their finale. If they won both, they'd finish 5-6 with three one-score losses.

I don't expect that to happen, because while they may well beat Winona next week, I don't see them beating Augie. The Vikings are just playing too good of football right now. They came as close as anyone has this year to beating top-ranked MSU-Mankato, and then whipped Winona State last week, nearly shutting out the Warriors.

The Vikings still have a decent shot of the Mineral Water Bowl, though they're clearly not counting on it (they'll need either Crookston or Bemidji to beat Northern State to have a chance). But just the fact that the Viking players know how much they've improved and realize how good they are has them playing and practicing hard to the end. It's impressive, being around the team, how high morale and enthusiasm is for a team with four losses.

Concordia is a good enough team that if the Vikings come out flat or take the Bears lightly, we could have an upset. That wouldn't shock me, but it would surprise me.