SMSU travels to Indiana to face FCS Valparaiso; looks to snap 3-game skid

Photo by Jake McNeill: Southwest Minnesota State wide receiver Eric Lira runs with the ball after bringing in a reception during the Mustangs' home matchup against Bemidji State on Sept. 8.

MARSHALL — The Southwest Minnesota State University football team looks to snap its three-game losing streak on Saturday as it will travel to face Valparaiso University in a non-conference game.

SMSU (1-3) is coming off a 33-0 loss to No. 23 Minnesota-Duluth, while Valpo (0-3) is coming off a 36-30 overtime loss to Marist College (N.Y.).

Last time out

Turnovers stymied the SMSU offense against the Bulldogs, as the Mustangs committed four turnovers — two interceptions and two fumbles lost. It was the second consecutive week that SMSU committed four turnovers. It’s a continuing theme for the Mustangs this year, as the turnover margin has ballooned to a minus-10. SMSU has not forced a turnover since Week 1 and has committed at least two turnovers in each game this season.

Marcus Martin finished with 159 passing yards on 12 of 25 passing with two interceptions. He was sacked twice, and has now been sacked 12 times this season with seven interceptions thrown.

Martin is averaging 195 passing yards per game, the most for a SMSU quarterback since Boyer Bouman in 2019.

Colin Maher caught three passes for 46 yards for the Mustangs, while Eric Lira finished with three receptions for 25 yards.

Junior running back Donald Austin was held to 45 yards rushing on 16 carries. Redshirt freshman Treay Taylor added six yards on two carries in his second consecutive week of action.

On 23 attempts total (including sacks), the rushing offense finished with a negative-1 yards agains UMD. The last time SMSU finished a game with negative yards rushing came on Nov. 13, 2021, against Augustana.

In the loss to UMD, the Bulldogs controlled the ball for over 35 minutes. It was the first time that the Mustangs lost the time of possession battle during the 2023 season. The Mustangs dropped to 34th in Division II in average time of possession, sill holding the ball for over 32 minutes per game.

Limited laundry

Don’t expect to see a lot of flags thrown during Saturday’s game, as both SMSU and Valparaiso are among the least penalized teams in their respective divisions. The Mustangs average just six penalties per game, which is tied for 46th in Division II, while they are tied for 37th in fewest penalty yards per game (49.75).

Meanwhile, Valpo is tied for eighth in FCS, averaging just four penalties per game, while the Beacons lead FCS in fewest penalty yards per game (26.67).

Road less traveled

Valparaiso University is located in Valparaiso, Indiana, roughly an hour’s drive past Chicago, Illinois.

This is the first time in program history that the football team is playing a game in the state of Indiana.

While it is the longest road trip for the Mustangs this season at 597 miles, it is not unheard of within the NSIC footprint. A trip between NSIC institutions Winona State and Minot State is slightly longer at 638 miles when the two teams meet in the regular season finale.

Unfamiliar territory

SMSU is playing its first game against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent since 1999 and for only the fifth time in program history. The Mustangs are 0-4 in the four previous FCS games, and have lost the four games by an average of 36 points.

The non-conference game was added to the schedule after the departure of Upper Iowa University from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference to the Great Lakes Valley Conference over the summer. It will be the first non-conference opponent since the 2013 Mineral Water Bowl game against Pittsburg State (Kan.). The last regular season game that did not count towards the NSIC standings came in 2011 against Northern State, while the last regular season game that was not an NSIC member came in 2009 against Black Hills State University.

Familiar face

A member of the Valparaiso coaching staff may be recognizable to Mustang fans. Beacons tight end coach Nate VanAsperen was an offensive lineman for the SMSU football team during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. In two seasons, he played in all 22 games and started 16 games between left guard and center. VanAsperen was named a team captain for the Mustangs prior to the 2018 season, and he was the recipient of the ‘Ben Bundy Lineman of the Year’ award following the 2018 campaign. After graduating from Southwest in the spring, VanAsperen stayed in Marshall from 2019 to 2021 as a graduate assistant, working with the offensive line, running backs and tight ends in his two years as a coach in the program.

VanAsperen and Valpo offensive line coach Andrew Prevost spent the 2022 season at the University of South Dakota, where they crossed paths with SMSU junior defensive lineman Jason Samec.

Valparaiso freshman Michael Martin is the younger brother of the Mustangs’ starting quarterback.

Seeing Brown

Similar to Southwest, the Valparaiso school colors are brown, gold and white. Their primary uniform combination is brown jerseys, brown pants and a white helmet. The Beacons play their home games at Brown Field, though it seems the stadium name is in honor of a man named Henry Baker Brown who restarted the university in 1873 and not a nod to the school’s color scheme. The stadium opened in 1919 and has a capacity of 5,000 people. The playing surface was upgraded to turf in 2008.

Where to find the game

If you’re looking for an option to watch the game online, you won’t find Saturday’s game in the usual place on NSIC Network. The game will be carried live and on-demand on the online subscription service ESPN+.

As always, you can hear Ryan Rohlik on the call on 105.1 FM KARL or streaming online at marshallradio.net for free.


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