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Dakota Wesleyan football shows offensive improvement, but points prove elusive early in season

Compared to 2021, The Tigers' offense has shown improvement but finishing drives has remained a challenge

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Dakota Wesleyan's Garrett Mandolfo carries the ball against Dordt University during an NAIA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Joe Quintal Field.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — The wins have yet to arrive for Dakota Wesleyan football in 2022.

The Tigers are 0-4 and have been outscored by an average of 23 points per game in the early portion of the season. But despite that, DWU’s offense has shown solid signs of production this season.

The Tigers are completing over 64% of their passes — a roughly 13% jump from last season — and even when starter Austin Lee left the game against Dordt with an injury, freshman Connor Drake came in and went 11-for-18 with 99 yards and a touchdown.

Out of the 97 NAIA teams listed in the association's statistical database, DWU is 59th in the nation in terms of passing yards per game, a jump from last year’s mark of No. 83 in the country.

DWU is converting first downs, too. Its 81 first downs rank 13th in all of NAIA, and at 20.3 first downs per game, the Tigers rank 38th. The Tigers are also in the top half of the country in total yards and sit at 18th in the nation in third-down conversion percentage at 44%.

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All of these marks have increased from last year. The Tigers were 68th nationally in total yards, and they converted 30% of their third downs, which put them at No. 83 in the country. And as far as first downs go, DWU was 89th out of 98 teams with 149 first downs and 93rd with 13.5 first downs per game.

Yet, despite the success moving the ball this year, it hasn't translated to a ton more points.

The Tigers average 15.8 points per game so far this year, a 2.8-point jump from last year despite much larger improvements in other areas. Yet, the 15.8 points DWU is scoring per contest ranks tied for 73th among NAIA teams.

So then with all the improvements, why are the Tigers still struggling to put points on the board? After a 38-7 loss to Dordt, coach Ross Cimpl shouldered the blame for that.

“I’m the type of guy that if our guys are making mistakes … that comes back to me in some way shape or form,” Cimpl said. “We have to put them in the position (to execute). If we didn't put them in a position, that's on us, and if they are in the right position, then they need to be prepared on how to execute. And again, that comes back to coaching.”

The lack of execution for DWU is arguably most apparent in the red zone. The Tigers are 87th in the country in red-zone percentage at 47% and are one of 10 teams under 50% in the red zone with at least one trip inside the 20 this season.

“Maybe it’s not the best play call in the red zone,” Cimpl said as to why the Tigers are struggling once they reach that area.

The team is also struggling with fourth downs and turnovers. DWU is 78th nationally in fourth-down percentage, converting two of its nine tries, and the Tigers have turned the ball over nine times through the first four games.

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On top of that, the Tigers have only tried one field goal so far this season — a miss against Dordt. The lone field-goal attempt comes despite 15 trips to the red zone and seven touchdowns, meaning seven of DWU’s 15 trips to the red zone have resulted in a turnover or defensive stop, rather than points.

Still, despite the struggles, they’re putting up over 287 yards of total offense a game, including 173 through the air and they’ve eclipsed the century mark on the ground twice, including 239 yards against Jamestown.

“At some point … (it) gives you hope,” Cimpl said of his team’s offense moving the ball but not scoring after the loss to Dordt. “On the other side of it, you’re disappointed that you’re not able to finish it. …

“I listed some of the mistakes we made (to the team) and I said, ‘We have to clean these things up and this is a different ballgame. But until we clean them up, this is going to be our result.’”

Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at zlambert@mitchellrepublic.com or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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