The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

December 6, 2012

Courrier column: Wolf a big reason for MSU's success

MANKATO — It was written here in August that the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota State football teams faced similar concerns about their offenses heading into this season.

With unproven quarterbacks, both teams would need to be efficient on early downs in order to be more successful on third down, allowing the team to continue drives, gain a possession time advantage and, ultimately, score more points.

Well, one team has shown an ability to stay on the field with some third-down efficiency, in large part because of a quarterback that has improved steadily into an accomplished playmaker with his feet and arm.

That team is not the Vikings.

Based on the personnel coming back to Minnesota State this fall, you knew the Mavericks would be good in the offensive line, which has bulldozed holes for a nice stable of backs. Adam Thielen is one of the best receivers in program history.

The defense had almost everyone back from a talented unit, and the front seven would be so good at stopping the run that the Mavericks could afford to work in some less-experienced corners and safeties.

The biggest question mark was at quarterback, though unlike the Vikings’ Christian Ponder, Minnesota State’s Jon Wolf keeps improving every game as the stakes have gotten a little higher.

Wolf, who missed three games with an ankle injury, has rushed for 568 yards and 10 touchdowns, often extending plays with his elusiveness. He’s also become an efficient passer, completing 108 of 181 passes for 1,560 yards with 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

His 59.7 percent completion rate doesn’t fully tell the story of the many clutch passes he’s completed, helping his team convert more than 40 percent of the team’s third-down plays. On third-down passes, Wolf has completed 40 of 70 (57.1 percent) for 31 first downs and seven scores. On fourth down, he’s completed 4 of 7 passes for four first downs and two scores.

For those who watch professional football, you know that the Vikings’ quarterback doesn’t come near that completion rate or make many plays in clutch situations, despite having the best rusher in the NFL

Wolf has benefited from a strong ground game, and he’s added nicely to the mix. Opponents know they have to devote a lot of manpower to stopping the run, but Wolf can escape the pocket and gain yards on his own or pick out an open receiver down the field.

There were concerns around the Minnesota State program about quarterback play back in August, but that possible weakness has turned into one of this team’s many strengths.

The same can’t be said about the Vikings.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, email ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChadCourrier.

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