Game of the Week Preview: Sioux Falls vs Northwestern

The University of Sioux Falls is set to exit the NAIA. Before the GPAC kings return their crown and head off into the distance in search of bigger prizes, they must go through one more season in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. One of the Cougars biggest rivals has turned into Northwestern College. The two programs have never met on opening day of the season, but they will this season. The series has been dominated by Sioux Falls in the last decade, outscoring the Red Raiders 243-96 since 2002, although NWC leads the all-time series. In six of the eight matchups, the Cougars have scored first. Northwestern hasn’t been to the NAIA Championship Series since 2006 and an upset of Sioux Falls would go a long way to ending the postseason drought. Over 4,000 people on average attend this rivalry each year and this year shouldn’t be any different.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the game:

Offensive Line:
USF lost some big talent off the offensive front, most notably T.J. Wendt and Kyle Staudt. However, like any good program, the Cougars have some quality guys set to fill in those vacated spots. Left tackle Kyle Wasson and center Casey Peters will anchor a somewhat young and inexperienced offensive front. Expect the Cougar OL to be ready to go and continue the success of the past.

Northwestern returns three guys on the offensive line that received offensive honors from the conference a year ago. Dan Solis and John Adam are the key guys up front for the Red Raiders. NWC will benefit this year from its older offensive line. They will need to be good this year and create some room for Taylor Malm and the backfield.

ADVANTAGE:

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
The Red Raiders will see a younger group take the field at wide receiver. The team will start a couple of sophomores and a junior at tight end. NWC is looking to find the receiver that is able to stand out and be a go-to kind of guy. If they can find a guy to stand out it will take some pressure off a young quarterback and the running game. This will be an interesting group to watch develop over the course of the season.

The Cougars are in a much different situation. They do have a playmaker, in fact, they have more than one. This is an experienced group of wide receivers that will help lead the Coo all season. Jon Ryan is a big play guy who has seen his share of receptions. Alex Anderson had some big time plays last season when the Cougars needed him. Tony Benedetto will also be on the field a lot for USF. This position shows a clear-cut advantage.

ADVANTAGE:

Running Backs:
Kris Porter saw time last season behind Ryan Lowmiller, a big loss for the Cougar backfield. This year, Porter will have a chance at an expanded role. He is a very solid running back and can make some big plays. Arsenio Richardson will join Porter in the backfield after missing last season. This will be a good backfield for the Cougars to help develop a two-dimension offense. The Cougars have experience at quarterback and wide receiver, now they need to develop more in the running game.

The Red Raiders return senior Taylor Malm to the backfield. Last season, Malm ran into the end zone 14 times, while rushing for over 850 yards. He will be joined in the backfield by a couple of fullbacks with experience in Brandon Smith and Kevin VanderSchaaf. Both players saw time on the field last season, while VanderSchaaf spent some time out with injuries. This is a group that will have to carry the NWC offense early in the season.

ADVANTAGE:

Quarterbacks:
Jayme Rozeboom was penciled in as the starter for the Red Raiders last season before suffering an injury that left him sidelined for the year. The sophomore is back and again ready to lead the Red Raider offense for Coach Achterhoff. The quarterback has been in the system long enough to know the offense very well. His play will be vital to the success of the Red Raiders in 2010.

Every two years the Cougars start a new quarterback. Two years ago Lorenzo Brown took over as the starter, two years before that it was Chad Cavender and two years earlier it was Joe Wright. This year is no exception. USF will start Jon Eastman, a transfer from Colorado State University. He has a good physical build for a quarterback and experience to lead a Sioux Falls caliber team.

ADVANTAGE:

Overall Offense:
It’s a split decision in the four categories for this game for “Thayer’s Thoughts”, but we will find an overall offensive advantage. Offensive line can be a key factor in deciding overall offense. While I have the advantage in this category for NWC, I do think the Cougars buffet busters are a skilled group. USf has the more experienced quarterback and wide receivers and they have running backs that can get the job done. The Red Raiders are unproven at quarterback and wide receiver. There are too many question marks in key positions to give the advantage to the Red Raiders.

ADVANTAGE:


Defensive Line:
Brandon Koolstra could be the guy that makes the Cougars defensive line go this season. Sean Santiago and Joyce Culp are a couple of juniors that will add to the success. At first glance the Coo defensive front may be less talented than a year ago without guys like Mike Hartley and Drew DeGroot, but don’t count out these new names just yet.

The Red Raiders are young on the ends with a couple of sophomores in rotation. The most experience on the D-line for the Red Raiders is at the Nose Tackle position. Paul Lundgren and Jordan Te Grootenhuis are expected to both get time on the defensive front. Te Grootenhuis led all NWC defensive linemen in tackles last season.

ADVANTAGE:

Linebackers:
The Red Raiders use five linebackers on its defense. There seems to always be a guy with the name “Jansen” involved with the NWC linebackers and this season is no exception. Aaron Jansen will be right in the middle of the defense. If his older brothers playing days are any indication then this kid will be pretty talented. TJ Lensch and Austin Rozeboom are a couple of seniors that need to be defensive leaders this season. Lensch was one of the team leaders in 2008, but missed last season. Rozeboom was the leader in tackles last season.

The Cougars will have the best linebacker on the field Saturday when Dom Studzinski is in the game. He will be surrounded by a group of juniors looking to gain experience. Defense took a big hit for the Cougars last season and they will need guys to step up. This defense will miss some of the linebackers they had last year, but have some talent to fill holes. While I think the Cougars have the best player at this position, I’m not convinced they have the best group on the field.

ADVANTAGE:

Secondary:
The Cougars took a big hit in the secondary from last year. However, the Coo has some guys that saw time last season and can step in this year. Dan Schmeichel is the leader in the secondary as the only returning starter from last season. Joe Moen is a senior that will step in and provide leadership as well. Dustin Bergmeier is a guy who will be in a fill-in role, but can be very good. He saw minutes last year and made them quality minutes.

Caleb Van Otterloo and Jon Gerber are three year starts at NWC. They have the experience to be a good group this season. Jerel Kyles will join the two in the secondary. Last season Van Otterloo was named to the GPAC squad, while Gerber received honorable mention. I like the secondary for this game is much like the linebackers. Van Otterloo may be the best player at his position on the field, but the Cougars have the better overall secondary.

ADVANTAGE:

Overall Defense:
Defense has been dominated by Sioux Falls for quite some time. The Red Raiders have some guys that can be difference makers. While USF is no longer a Chuck Morrell led defense, there are a bunch of players that were Chuck Morrell players. I think overall the Coo will continue to be strong on the defensive side of the football.

ADVANTAGE:

Kicking:
James Rodriguez will handle the kicking duties for NWC. If the offense can find the end zone, Rodriguez will be able to gain some experience.

Braden Wieking will return as the kicker for USF. He gained a lot of experience last year with one of the best offenses in the country. Wieking made 100 extra points in 2009.

ADVANTAGE:

Overall:
Northwestern will continue to be a contender in the GPAC this season. Head Coach Kyle Achterhoff has his team headed in the right direction. Sioux Falls has a new coach, but still has a lot of talent. Jed Stugart is a coach with a lot of experience, including some head coaching at an NAIA school. He knows what it takes to win. I think it helps the team brought in a quarterback from the higher level to lead this team. Northwestern will have to create opportunities to win this game. If they are given opportunities, they must capitalize.

PREDICTION:
– 31

– 17

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