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SMSU’s passing game a question mark with young receivers

April 17, 2010

Since Cory Sauter came to Southwest Minnesota State University, the passing game has never been an issue.

In Sauter's first year, Josh Shudlick broke Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference records for passing yards (3,082) and touchdown passes (30). Last year, Ryan Ratekin was named NSIC newcomer of the year after passing for 2,963 yards.

Ratekin figures to be a big part of the Mustangs' offense again this season. But a quarterback's job is directly influenced by the receivers around him. And in that case, an inexperienced core of receivers will have to learn quickly.

With a scrimmage today at 10 a.m. and a week to go before the spring football game, Sauter knows from his quarterback playing days how vital it is for the offense to be on the same page.

"The big thing is both the quarterback and wide receiver positions, you always have to have a plan," Sauter said. "You can't just go out there without some sort of plan. Think about what you want to accomplish on a certain play and be able to react to that."

The Mustangs must react to losing leading receiver Blake Wilson (62 receptions, 842 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Derek Townsend (17-221-1) to graduation. Expected to be the top returning receiver, Wade McDonough (47-725-9) is not out for spring ball due to injuries.

The top returner is tight end Shane LaDage, who had 14 receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown last year.

Sauter said he expects big things out of the returning players. He also isn't objecting to move people around.

"Bret Ballantine is a guy that's very steady," Sauter said. "We moved Nate Finkey over from defensive corner to slot receiver. He's progressed very well in a short period of time. Sam Woitalewicz is another guy - he is someone who has actually been in the program before I got here."

Another vital cog gone from the passing attack is running back Zach Wysong. Along with leading SMSU in rushing, Wysong was third on the Mustangs with 27 receptions. Sauter said running backs Gannon Moore and Warren Matthews will be involved in the passing game to a lesser extent.

"Zach was a natural wide receiver, these guys have to work at it a little more," Sauter said. "(Moore and Matthews are) more of true running backs, it doesn't come natural for them. We'll find a way to get them the football one way or another."

The first test comes today at the team's scrimmage. As opposed to the last two weeks of spring football, the play will be full contact.

"Offensively, I'd like for us to get into a rhythm and not get sloppy and cause turnovers," Sauter said. "I want us to play clean, crisp football. ... Make good decisions and the rest will take care of itself."

The offense is looking in the right direction, but Sauter knows there is still room for improvement.

"We've come a long way, but we got a long way to go," he said. "It's a work in progress, and we'll continue to work."

The passing game remains a question mark for the first time in Sauter's tenure, but the Mustangs still have the time to find a rapport between Ratekin and the new receiving core. Now, the pressure lies on who will step up in a recently-potent air attack.

"That's the great thing about spring ball. You get to find out a lot about the guys coming back and give them a lot of reps to learn our system," Sauter said. "They've been given a good opportunity here and it'll be a good test (today) in the scrimmage, kind of the mid-term for them. We'll see how they process everything and handle pressure."



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