Tigers look to snap two-game losing streak against Chargers
Saturday’s contest at Joe Quintal Field Field features two teams trying to find their footing near the bottom of the Great Plains Athletic Conference. Dakota Wesleyan University (1-5) and Briar Cliff (Iowa) (1-4) each enter with one win.
Last week’s 35-point loss to Morningside (Iowa) guaranteed DWU’s third consecutive losing season. The Tigers now face an opponent that’s defeated them in each of the past two years, including when the Chargers earned a 47-0 win a year ago.
Briar Cliff is also coming off its first win of the season last week, a 27-18 victory over Hastings (Neb.).
“It’s two teams that are really trying to figure out what they do well and who they do it well with,” DWU coach Ross Cimpl said. “Obviously they had some success and won a huge game on the road at Hastings.”
DWU searching for balanced offense
Even before Mitchell native Spencer Neugebauer’s 10-catch, 149-yard outing last week, he was among the statistical leaders in every major receiving category. He leads the GPAC with 47 receptions and ranks fourth in yards (550) and touchdown receptions (5).
His production has been the product of DWU’s efficient passing game, which has continued to make a larger imprint on the offense as the year progresses. Zachary Lester has attempted 42 and 50 pass attempts in his last two starts. It netted the Tigers’ only win of the year and the two times they’ve topped 20 points this year.
Cimpl has seen teams adapt to DWU’s passing attack in recent weeks, though.
“We have to at some point establish the run game so we can keep throwing the football,” Cimpl said. “Because as we’re seeing now is teams dropping a lot of guys in coverage and forcing us to run the ball.”
With an offensive line that has faced injuries and quarantines, along with redshirt-freshman Jamin Arend taking over at running back with no prior collegiate experience, the Tigers haven’t had a 50-yard rusher since Week 2. Arend’s 204 yards on 2.6 yards per carry represents their only 100-yard rusher on the season, too.
“Just keeping the same group in our (offensive line) rotation would be nice. That’s part of our issue,” Cimpl said. “… You got five guys that have to be on the same page all the time, and communicate all the way down the line. Having continuity is a big deal.”
Arend has flashed some promising runs at times and his career-high eight receptions against Morningside displays the receiving ability he’s shown the whole year.
The offensive line has another big test, though, against a defense averaging 3.2 sacks per game and holding teams to 3.6 yards per rush.
“They don’t have to blitz an extra linebacker to get pressure,” Cimpl said. “That’s going to be a challenge for us is they can drop eight in coverage and still put pressure on you with three or four guys.”
DWU’s secondary has an opportunity against turnover-prone Chargers
DWU’s aggressive man-to-man coverage has its issues, though it also yields one of the highest interception totals this year.
The Tigers have intercepted the third-most passes this year with eight. Jacob Zamora paces the secondary with a team-high three picks, while Nate Rupprecht added his second interception against Morningside.
Meanwhile, Briar Cliff is the only team in the conference which has thrown double-digit interceptions (13). That said, it made a change at quarterback with true freshman Cayden Mitchell taking over, as he went 7-for-18 for 132 yards, a touchdown and interception last week. He replaced John Bell, who threw 11 interceptions on 100 pass attempts.
“We have to attack the ball,” Cimpl said. “They changed this up last week against Hastings. They tried to run it a little more.”