MARSHALL - With 10 starters back from last year, the Southwest Minnesota State football team's offense knew it had a distinct advantage in the team's spring game on Saturday.
Utilizing a veteran offense that averaged 376.5 yards per game in 2011 (1,510 total rushing yards, 2,632 passing), the Mustangs' first unit was able to move the ball up and down the field throughout Saturday's intra-squad game at Mattke Field to close out spring football.
"All in all, it was solid," said SMSU head football coach Cory Sauter, who will enter his third season as head coach this fall. "We protected the football and were able to capitalize on a few big plays.
Photo by Joe Brown
Southwest Minnesota State wide receiver Jordan Cross comes down with a catch in the endzone during the Mustangs’ spring football game Saturday at Mattke Field.
"The offense was going to be ahead of the defense with the experience level. We're going to have to continue to address that and hopefully we can get the right mix of players."
Using a mix of outside runs and passes out to the flats, Mustangs' running back Warren Matthews had a breakout game as a multi-purpose weapon. In his first five runs, Matthews accounted for 80 yards and a touchdown, and later scored on a deep pass on a streak route out of the backfield.
"It was a pretty good game," said Matthews, who accounted for 629 rushing and 79 receiving yards last season. "I just relied on my O-line, and Coach called good plays and I did what I could to get in the end zone. It was a good spring."
Sauter added, "Warren, he's proven he's just a good player. We just got him the ball a lot of different ways and let him make our offense look good."
With Gannon Moore on the sidelines with an injury, SMSU's backfield got more involved in the passing game with Matthews, Tyler Tonderum and Caleb Burns each taking part in the aerial game.
"We included some different ways in our offense this year to get (Matthews) and the other backs the ball," Sauter said. "Sometimes, it doesn't always work out that way, but Warren took advantage of some of the looks we were getting and he was making plays. We didn't have too many negative-yardage plays with our first group."
SMSU's offense also had different faces spread out at receiver with Anthony Dean, Jarred Carlson and tight end Cody Condon out of the game, leaving opportunities for players like Jordan Cross, Abe Kos and Minneota native Will Kurka.
"It's an opportunity for guys to show what they can do and that's what we got to find out," Sauter said. "We have to get the right people on the field and they got ample opportunity to prove that during the spring and fall."
On defense, the Mustangs look to replace five starters. Through the first couple series, the defense led the spring game in the modified scoring system. The defense is looking for a vast improvement after finishing 13th in the 14-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in total offense (468.5 yards allowed per game).
Making plays all over the field on the first and second team was sophomore linebacker AJ Page. The 6-foot-5, 232-pound outside linebacker gave the offense fits from the edge.
"He's a gifted player," Sauter said of Page. "He's got long arms, he's quick and he's got good football smarts where he can see where things develop. He's someone you always have to be aware of because he can change the outcome of a game or a series with one play."
With spring practice over, the Mustangs' attention now shifts to the fall for the 2012 season. On Aug. 30, SMSU kicks off the season at Mattke Field for an NSIC game against the defending conference champions, Minnesota-Duluth.
"It's great knowing we got our starting team back from last year, with everyone having game experience," said Matthews, who will be a senior in the fall. "I can't wait. I look forward to Duluth. I look forward to beating Duluth."