Chad Courrier: MSU football has much work to do

·3 min read

Nov. 19—So much to fix, so little time.

Just two years ago, the Minnesota State football team was playing for a national championship. This season, the Mavericks barely posted a winning record.

What went wrong, outside of a global pandemic, a season being wiped out and a transfer system that made it very easy to jump around to different programs?

The biggest problems were on defense, both against the run and pass. The Mavericks allowed 22.8 points per game, an outrageous number for this program.

Opponents averaged 142.3 yards of rushing and 216.6 yards passing and converted 31.5% on third down and 31.3% on fourth down. The Mavericks' goals for each game are much, much less.

The Mavericks scored enough points, averaging 40.9, but the scores didn't come when they needed them most.

The Mavericks averaged only 205.8 yards rushing, more than 75 yards per game down from 2019, which means they had to lean on the inconsistent passing game, which completed only 58.2% of the throws with 12 interceptions. The offensive line, which should have been the team's strength, didn't open holes or protect the quarterback as it had in the past. The Mavericks committed 19 turnovers.

The Mavericks had the highest-scoring team in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and ranked third in points allowed, but you can throw out the results against Minot State, Concordia-St. Paul, Upper Iowa and Southwest Minnesota State. Those games, at this point, aren't competitive, and stats from those gimmes distort the issues.

So, a lot of work remains for this program to get back to the top of the South Division.

It appears that freshman quarterback Hayden Ekern could be a starter in this league. Running backs Kaleb Sleezer, Charles Coleman and Christian Vasser can handle the rushing duties, though it would be better if the offensive line had more success.

Speaking of the offensive line, there will be at least four new starters next season.

Receivers Jalen Sample, Nyles Williams and Deyon Campbell are one of the offense's strengths, and the tight end group is deep with Gabe Hagen, Blake VerMulm and Tanner Johnson coming back.

The defense will have a bunch of new faces again, though linebacker Trent Carpenter, the team's leading tackler, will be back. Safeties Somon Anderson, Nic Vinson and Payton Conrad and defensive lineman Bedale Naba all could return.

This team started the season hoping to get back to the national championship game, perhaps getting that ring this time. After two weeks, it was obvious that wouldn't happen.

The defense leaked and the offense often lacked imagination and precision.

But what played out was shocking. A 6-5 record with only one quality win? That hasn't happened here since Minnesota State joined the Northern Sun in 2008.

It's unlikely the Mavericks will return to the top of the conference next season, given how many issues need to be solved, but it would be unfortunate if this became a trend. MSU football has become the most popular sport in town, averaging more than 4,700 fans per game, and autumns are much more fun when the Mavericks are winning football games.

Chad Courrier is the Free Press sports editor. He's at 507-344-6353, or on Twitter @ChadCourrier.

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