Passing has not been a problem for the University of Mary football team through its first two games.
Running the ball, however, has been.
The Marauders rank sixth in NCAA Division II in yards through the air per game (362). Getting it going on the ground was stressed in practice this week. Head coach Craig Bagnell hopes it transfers to tonight's 6 p.m. game in Marshall against Southwest Minnesota State.
"On Tuesday, we challenged our guys physically and mentally. It was intense. We have to be able to run the football," Bagnell said. "We need to be able to run for 4.5 yards per carry (Saturday)."
Through two games, the Marauders have averaged less than one yard per carry.
"Wayne State and Augustana, with what they do, they aren't going to let you line up and just run it," Bagnell said. "Still, we do have to run the ball better than we have. We understand that."
Southwest Minnesota State has losses to Minnesota State-Moorhead and Northern State. The Mustangs have held up well against the run, allowing just 3.4 per carry, but have been susceptible through the air.
Logan Nelson is averaging 302 yards passing so far and has no turnovers. Wide receivers Danny Kittner and Luke Little have each gone over 100 yards both games. It's the first time ever two Marauders receivers have done that.
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The Marauders have zero turnovers so far. SMSU is -5 in turnover ratio so far.
"Logan's done a good job taking care of the ball," Bagnell said. "Our running backs have done a good job holding onto the ball, we just need to get them some more room to run."
If there's a player on Southwest Minnesota State's roster to watch, it's No. 1 — Adihia Bell. Interestingly, Bell graduated from high school in Milwaukee in 2013. In 2019, he led the Mustangs in sacks with four. Now, he plays defensive back and returns punts and kicks.
"He's a really talented player," Bagnell said of the 6-1, 205-pounder. "He's all over the field for them."
The Mustangs' 0-2 record is deceiving. They run the ball well, have a D-I transfer quarterback from Northern Illinois (Andrew Haidet) and have good players at every position.
"Coach (Corey) Sauter always has some unique things on offense, maybe a couple of trick plays," Bagnell said. "It's another good NSIC team."
The Marauders are looking to avoid having dry spells, which have put them behind the 8-ball. They trailed 17-0 against Wayne State before rallying for a chance to tie in the third quarter in the opener. Last week against 21st-ranked Augustana, they scored first, but the Vikings surged back for a 30-7 halftime advantage.
"We have to avoid those lulls. It's finding a way to get that spark, someone making a play to keep a drive going or whatever it may be," Bagnell said.
U-Mary's last win over SMSU was in 2014. The Mustangs hold a 7-3 lead in the head-to-head series. The Marauders are hoping to return to Bismarck some 800 miles later with their first win.
"The season has not gone the way we wanted it to so far," Bagnell said. "We had a good week of practice. The guys are upbeat with good energy. Now it's about finding a way to win this game."
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org