MADISON -- The start of the Dakota Wesleyan University football season is once again marked with a clash under the lights against in-state rival Dakota State University.
The 7 p.m. matchup today on Midco Sports Network is the first time neither team has been ranked to open the season since 2015 as both are coming off a losing season. The Tigers went 2-9, while the Trojans finished 3-8 after opening the 2018 campaign with a 27-18 win over DWU for their third straight win in the rivalry.
Here are three things to watch for when the Tigers and Trojans play for the 74th time.
New faces on offense
Mitchell native Kiel Nelson won a quarterback battle which lasted into the final week of fall camp. And while he’ll hand-off to redshirt-senior and Canova native Luke Loudenburg, while throwing to DWU’s top-two receivers from a year ago, Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer and Daniel Libolt, five new faces will be blocking for DWU’s new signal caller.
T.J. Benton replaces All-American left tackle Trevor Wietzema, with Mat Davis (LG), former Menno High School standout Zakk Ryherd (C), South Dakota State University transfer Logan Busch (RG) and Ben Gustad (RT) starting alongside him. Despite the lack of starting experience, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Benton and 6-foot-5, 315-pound Busch add much-needed size to the offensive line.
They’ll be tasked with keeping Nelson upright in his first career start against a defense which averaged 1.7 sacks per game and had three sacks against the Tigers last season.
“A true freshman who’s playing in his first college game, keeping him clean in the pocket is a big deal,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “Whether that’s quick throws or getting him in a position where he can feel comfortable out of the pocket, we have to put him in that position.”
Brodie Frederiksen can take a foot of space and turn it into 60 yards. DWU saw that up close last season when the former Tiger torched it for 286 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries (9.2 yards per rush).
Frederiksen didn’t slow down the rest of the season, using his speed and quickness to rank third in the NAIA in rushing yards per game (138.7) and eighth in total rushing (1,387 yards).
“The thing that makes Brodie really good is if there’s space, Brodie’s going to find it,” Cimpl said. “We have to make windows for him really, really small and force him out of his comfort zone. He’s really good when he can work downhill and make that one-cut.”
Frederiksen’s big-play ability, which led to touchdown runs of 80 and 38 yards last year, makes the Tigers’ defensive line equally as important as their young offensive line. It returns plenty of experience with sack-leader Emmanuel Christopher, Alan Murtic and Dominick Warmbein.
“The line of scrimmage is always important, but especially in the first game (since) they have an all-star running back and we have a freshman quarterback,” Cimpl said. “Both teams are going to talk about the line of scrimmage as being important whether they have the ball or they’re on defense.”
True freshman starts at corner
DWU’s cornerback decision might not cause the same stir as a new quarterback, but it’s still significantly important for a defense which allowed six touchdown passes of 49 yards or longer in 2018. True freshman Hunter Cordell will get the first crack at helping DWU’s secondary, winning the job over Nate Rupprecht.
“He’s fearless,” Cimpl said. “When you have offensive linemen that are noticing a DB and how he plays, that’s saying something. He takes chances, he’s not afraid to make mistakes.”
The Trojans are a run-first team, but quarterback Torren Devericks still provides a challenge. He completed 56.6 percent of passes last season for 2,123 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Watertown native will start next to Brandon Slama, with safeties Mitch Johnson, a Mitchell native, and Jackson Diede rounding out the secondary.
“Is he ready to take 90 snaps in a game? Probably not,” Cimpl said. “But he’s ready to play in a college football game.”