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Perilous passing: Kernels attempt to fix passing game at midseason

The emphasis during the offseason for the Mitchell High School football program was to improve the passing game for the 2018 campaign. The Kernels wanted to go from a team that threw the ball in traditional passing situations to a team that used ...

Mitchell tight end Payton Olson is tackled by Sioux Falls Washington's Nate Freese after a catch as Randolph Kpai (33) closes in during a game on Sept. 14 at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Mitchell tight end Payton Olson is tackled by Sioux Falls Washington's Nate Freese after a catch as Randolph Kpai (33) closes in during a game on Sept. 14 at Howard Wood Field in Sioux Falls. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The emphasis during the offseason for the Mitchell High School football program was to improve the passing game for the 2018 campaign.

The Kernels wanted to go from a team that threw the ball in traditional passing situations to a team that used the aerial attack as a weapon in addition to their trademark running game.

Early on, it appeared Mitchell's work had come to fruition, as quarterback Kiel Nelson threw two touchdown passes in the first half of the season opener against Watertown. The passing game, though, has declined since then, leaving the Kernels looking to piece everything back together after a 1-3 start.

"We haven't caught the ball at the rate in which we can really develop confidence," MHS head coach Kent VanOverschelde said. "The other aspect is decision making and part of that is trying to come up with some hard and set rules. Against Washington, we ran double slants with a bubble (screen) three times and they gave us a different look three times. So I understand the difficulty Kiel has in his decision making on that."

The Mitchell passing attack sputtered last Friday against Sioux Falls Washington, as Nelson went 7 of 20 passing for 42 yards and two interceptions, including a pick-six in the second half. Nelson started the game strong, completing his first three passes, but the passing game went south in the first quarter after Nelson's pass was tipped and scooped off the turf by a Washington defender.

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"We just need to be able to forget about that completely the next drive and just get right back into it," Nelson said. "We were in a rhythm and we were rolling pretty good right away and then that happened. I think if we just forget the bad stuff, we'll be all right."

Statistics in football-good or bad-are almost always attached to the quarterback, but they aren't as tangible as they appear.

Nelson is completing just 29 percent of his passes this season, while also averaging 3.2 yards per attempt and two touchdowns compared to three interceptions, but Mitchell is quick to point to other deficiencies rather than placing blame on one person.

The Kernels have struggled with drops thus far and had two more against Washington for would-be first downs, including on an attempted hook-and-ladder play. Running crisp and precise routes is also a focus. On timing patterns, receivers must run proper routes at the proper depth in order for Nelson to place the ball on target.

"These schemes are just how you want it to be. If you don't run the route right, these aren't going to work," MHS tight end Payton Olson said. "We've got a 951 and I'm the outside guy, if I don't run, it's not going to open the other guys up. So I've got to get there and go."

NOTES: A 951 route refers to receiving patterns on a route tree. A 'nine' is a fly pattern, a 'five' is an out pattern and a 'one' refers to a pattern to the flats.

Related Topics: KERNELSMITCHELL KERNELS
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