First off, I have to print a retraction. When looking at the regional brackets, I asked if the Lions beat Central Washington, would they get a home game based on their place on the bracket, and not with rankings. I got ahead of myself so I do apologize for that. The only chance of the Lions hosting a playoff game would be in National Semifinals if they landed a top 2 seed. It would be amazing to see that, as it could be the biggest game in Commerce in a long time. Also, if the Lions get through Winona State and Central Washington, if they meet up with Midwestern State in the Regional Finals, the game would likely be in Wichita Falls, so there is that.
I took a look at Winona State, and I found some interesting things. First, on offense, they are very balanced. They average 35 points per game and 352.9 of total offense per game. Their Quarterback is Darren Beenken, a 6’3 215 pound Senior who has thrown for 1,615 yards and 10 TD passes and 8 interceptions. They score a lot, but if you look at their drives, most of them are short and are well executed. Javian Roebuck is the leading rusher with 674 yards and 7 rushing TD’s. This team has over 2,000 rushing yards and has about 1,900 passing yards. This team likes to run the ball and the line is not nearly as big as I would have thought, as they average 6’3 and 280 LBS, so they are pretty tall but not what I would call that very big by today’s standards. The Lions O-Line out averages them in both size and stature. The is also a team that has a full time fullback and a tight end and uses them with regularity. This is something that will create a unique challenge for the Lions, having to deal with a full time running attack.
On defense, WSU leads the country in turnovers created. They have forced 10 fumbles and intercepted 20 passes. This is huge as the Lions must execute on offense. However, very few teams in the NILC run an offense similar to the Lions wide open attack. This is going to be the matchup that intrigues me the most. I am wondering if WSU is the beneficiary of poor passing attacks or just a really good defense. I believe it is a little of both based on what I can see in the stats of their opponents, but make no mistake, this is still a good team.
The best thing the Lions can do is be disciplined on all sides of the ball. That includes not missing tackles, not causing stupid penalties or creating them. On offense keeping Luis Perez upright is an absolute necessity and the weather will not exactly be sunny with a high of 70, so holding onto the ball is going to be big, because WSU loves to eat clock and very easily can. On defense this is going to be big on assignment defense. We play very few teams that run the ball with regularity , so being disciplined is so important and just gets more important with every game that could possibly come after this.
Finally, the Lions must attack and keep attacking. On offense send the receivers deep, wide, out, and underneath and just keep attacking relentlessly, not going at a breakneck pace, but just making routine plays. On defense if the Lions just play good gap defense and do not let WSU get into the secondary a lot, they have an excellent chance to win because Winona State is not going to win a game throwing the Football. Shut down the run, and that is most of the battle, and this team MUST finish the game if they get ahead. Going into a prevent offense or prevent defense has never worked and has lost the Lions big games. Hopefully, the coaching staff learns from that, and I think they have and will adjust accordingly.