The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Chad Courrier

August 30, 2012

Courrier: Early downs will be key for MSU

— Third-and-long, a perplexing and unwanted situation for any offense.

If a team can convert 30 percent of its third-and-long plays, that’s pretty good. A team that throws the football with proficiency has a better chance than one that prefers to run the ball.

Which is where Minnesota State comes in. The Mavericks want to run the ball with proven rushers and an unknown passing entity at quarterback. Therefore, the Mavericks need to be good on first and second down to avoid third-and-long, say 6 or more yards.

In Thursday’s opener against Minot State, the Mavericks were 5 of 14 on third-down conversions and three of six on third-and-6 or more. That’s a big reason why Minnesota State won the season-opener 44-10 over Minot State.

On 30 first-down plays, the Mavericks averaged 4.4 yards, with eight plays of 7 or more yards. That just gets each set of downs off to a positive start.

Junior quarterback Jon Wolf is a proven runner, having spent more time as a running back and receiver in his first two seasons. He’s rushed for 631 yards and seven touchdowns, but he’s completed less than half of his passes, with no scores. On Thursday, Wolf passed for 116 yards and rushed for 80 yards and one touchdown.

It’s going to be a common theme this season. If the Mavericks can convert or avoid third-and-long, it should be a successful season.

The same can be said for the Minnesota Vikings. Quarterback Christian Ponder needs to run the ball effectively and pass with greater efficiency on the early downs so that the offense can move the chains on third down. First downs lead to time of possession, which leads to points, hopefully touchdowns.

The Minnesota State offense will face far stiffer tests during this season, making third-down efficiency one of the most important stats to track.

When this season is over, the Mavericks, or Vikings, will post a record that will be directly related to third-down conversion rates.

Neither team has enough firepower or offensive philosophy to consistently strike from long range.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com, check out his local sports blog or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.

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