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Hayden Goethe, Published October 18 2013

Side game helps MSU Moorhead QB Hodge hone craft

Moorhead

The old adage “practice makes perfect” might not always hold true. But Minnesota State Moorhead’s head football coach can’t help but notice the change in sophomore quarterback Jake Hodge’s practice habits and how it has coincided with improved play.

While Hodge hasn’t been perfect, his elevated level of play has made him one of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference’s top offensive threats.

Hodge leads the NSIC in total offense per game, averaging just less than 350 combined yards per game. His 13 touchdown passes are seven more than he had all of last season, and his 85.2 rushing yards per game this year are nearly 60 more than his per-game average last season.

True freshman Demetrius Carr won the starting job over Hodge entering this season. But Carr broke a bone in his left foot in the season opener, pushing Hodge – who played nine games last season – back into the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.

“I just took it as it was,” Hodge said of opening the season as a backup. “You always have to be ready. You never know when it’s your time. You’re always just one play away from getting in there.”

Hodge’s progress has been particularly noticeable in the last three games. He has 1,049 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

But it’s his practice habits in the last three weeks that have caught the attention of Dragons (1-5, 1-5 NSIC) head coach Steve Laqua.

One possible reason for that change at practice stems from what started out as a side game for the Dragons quarterbacks.

Two quarterbacks would stand roughly 15 yards apart and throw the football to each other. If a quarterback’s throw is within the frame of the chest, the quarterback gets one point. If the throw is within the frame of the face, he gets two points. First player to 11 wins, and you have to win by two, Laqua said.

“It spilled over into playing against the quarterbacks coaches,” Laqua said. “Brock Wieber, who is a student assistant quarterbacks coach, had won the first 11 or 12 games in a row. No one could beat him.”

Laqua said that Hodge convinced Wieber – a former Northern State quarterback – to stay after practice to play the side game. Within two games, Hodge had beat him.

From there, Hodge has carried it into 11-on-11 drills in practice.

“When (the receivers) run hitches, it depends on where I hit them,” Hodge said. “Made it more relaxed and more fun.”

Laqua said it has helped improve his accuracy at practice and during games.

“He was constantly turning back after (a throw in) practice and going, ‘That’s another two points. That’s 23 now, isn’t it?’ … Jake was just dialed into not just throwing to the right place but throwing it accurately,” Laqua said.

MSUM junior offensive lineman Logan Romines thinks that the comfort level for Hodge’s teammates should only increase with every snap he takes.

“It’s nice to know who you got back there,” Romines said. “You kind of pick up on Hodge’s tendencies. You know how long Hodge is going to stay in the pocket.”

Lately, Hodge has shown a willingness to leave the pocket in order to make plays. In the last three games, he has 290 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

“We’ve been playing a lot of plays, playing fast-tempo,” Laqua said. “It becomes more of a basketball, fast-break, lot of possessions, lot of plays. That fits for a guy that naturally is good at just playing like you’re in the school yard. … He’s just really good at ad-libbing.”

Laqua said he has no doubt that Hodge has a chip on his shoulder after starting the season as a backup. But the changes at practice have made the biggest difference.

“For whatever reason, it’s just sparked the competitiveness that has really gained his focus,” Laqua said, referring to the points game. “It sounds crazy, but I really think it has been a piece to him playing so much better.”


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Hayden Goethe at (701) 241-5558