The University of Sioux Falls football team is off to a hot start, winning both of their games to improve their record to 2-0 coming into Saturday night against St. Cloud State. 

USF has been explosive on both sides of the ball, scoring a total of 93 points in two games. Last week, USF rolled over Bemidji State, 52-19, much in part to 477 yards of total offense, and six turnovers and three touchdowns produced by the defense.

The defense's resurgence is a big reason many feel good about this season's team. USF's run defense is sixth in the country now. Overall, in total defense, USF is 14th in Division II and second in the NSIC. This unit changed schemes and coordinators in the offseason. Tremaine Jackson is the new defensive coordinator, and he installed a simple system that from the start of Spring practice, the emphasis has been on forcing turnovers.

"We've made big deals when we get a turnover in practice, and we really celebrate that. We want to make that a big deal. When we are up and hollering after interceptions. The offense doesn't like it, but it makes them try and take care of the ball," says head football coach Jed Stugart. "Emphasizing that in practice has helped them take care of the ball and helped them. We've really put a focal point on that and want to be in the plus category in our turnover ratio."

Having an aggressive defense only helps the offense by taking the pressure off second-year quarterbacks Luke Papillion and Matt Young.

"Absolutely. I think last year we were hoping to get off the field. The defense now loves going out and playing football. We have confidence in our defense and feel good about what we are doing. We know we are not perfect and haven't arrived, but I think they have a different confidence about them. Even if we have a turnover, you don't see panic in their eyes. They just get back out there and play" adds Stugart.

Dustin Hovorka is in his first-year as offensive coordinator and in the first two games, the Cougars have scored 46.5 points per game (14th in Division II). Papillion and Young split time as signal callers as true freshman a year ago and are doing the same now. The Cougars will continue to do so, too.

"We've been highly productive in points. We scored 93 points in two games. At some point, we feel like until it becomes a hindrance or distraction, we go into games filling out where we at. If this week Luke has a roll going and there's points we are scoring, we may keep Luke in their the whole game. It's hard. They both have had such good camps and deserve to play. We are very comfortable with either one of them. Right now continue with that because we've been productive to date," says Stugart.

In two games, Papillion is 25-for-36 for 303 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Young is 28-of-40 for 251 yards, a touchdowns, and no interceptions. Rushing the football is what makes the duo even more dangerous. They've combined for 195 yards so far. Their athleticism and playmaking abilities keep opponents guessing.

"Preparation, I think you hit it. They do just enough different to where teams better during that week of practice guess. Okay, we have No. 7 (Young) in the game now. Our defensive mindset, we might change some things and that can create defenses not what they are used to be doing depending on what quarterback is on the field," adds Stugart.

Helping take some pressure from Papillion and Young is the Cougars strong run game once again. The Cougars are averaging 207.5 yards on the ground with Nephi Garcia (223 yards and five touchdowns), Joseph Hlushak (96 yards and a score), and then both Papillion and Young have their dynamic abilities to throw and run the ball.

Offensively, and defensively, the Cougars real first test comes tomorrow night, when 17th-ranked St. Cloud State comes into town. The Huskies are coming into this game 1-1, and off a win over Wayne State last week. In Week One, St. Cloud State was shutout by Minnesota State-Mankato. There also might be a little revenge factor when the Huskies step onto the field Saturday night. The Cougars beat them two years ago in St. Cloud (32-19) to capture their first win in the Northern Sun Conference. Stugart knows the Saturday's game presents a challenge against the Huskies.

"It's not getting complacent. The fact they are ranked 17th in the country, there's some history there. They are obviously going to still be a little bitter about the loss two years ago and we have heard them say through media outlets, they recognize our win streak or record (47-3) at the BOB. So, that's been talked about. The two years ago game has been talked about. And they feel like they got embarrassed by Mankato in their eyes. Mankato's very good, so I don't know if it's an embarrassment, but they look at it as an embarrassment. They played Wayne State very well, but they just think they have to make a statement. Keeping that in front of our players, and we have had really two great games, but we haven't done anything yet. What's 2-0 really mean?"

Beating St. Cloud State two years ago is fuel for the Cougars and a learning tool to be ready to play well right away at the time of kickoff.

"I talked about that early in the week. I reminded them that there's enough on the St. Cloud team and how many kids we have on our team that played two years ago. I reminded them that we got off the bus, got right after them and they were never really in the game. We have to remember and learn from that mistake of their's to not be ready. After while, though, you hope the kids understand that and stop beating a dead horse," Stugart adds.

When it comes down to big plays, special teams and field position are important. Stugart wants his team to make St. Cloud's offense drive the length of the field. He hopes his offense can avoid three and outs, and that as a team, the Cougars defense hit their goal of a plus-three turnover margin, like they did last week against Bemidji State. Lastly, USF needs to contain the run. The Huskies average 225.5 yards a game on the ground, and USF's sixth-best run defense in Division II will get a good battle.

Certainly, if the Cougars can do all these things, Stugart thinks that his football team can compete with anybody.

"I truly believe we have a team that can win on any Saturday. But we also have a team that has to put four quarters together. We haven't proven that yet. We have a team that I think can win the league. Last year it would have been tough to say that because we had so many unanswered questions and injuries that we had to overcome a lot. This is a team if they really figure that out, and go 1-0 every week focusing all their attention on the next game, and not look ahead. I think they done very well understanding that we are in the present right now and let that record take care of itself because we don't look ahead. We know we have some tough games down the road, but this is a tough game right now and we have to be 1-0 this week."

USF and St. Cloud State face each other at 6 p.m. at Bob Young Field on Saturday night.

University of Sioux Falls Cougars