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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 22 2013

Bison defense braces for Coyotes quarterback Earl

FARGO – The preseason talk at the University of South Dakota was how quarterback Josh Vander Maten was poised to have a solid junior season. That lasted less than a month.

Today, Vander Maten will be at receiver when the Coyotes face North Dakota State at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome. The starting quarterback, meanwhile, has emerged as a big presence – both in stature and in performance.

Kevin Earl is 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds with a strong arm. He has a ways to go before he’s considered one of the top quarterbacks in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but he has made enough plays to help USD significantly improve from last season.

“He’ll be different from a lot of quarterbacks just because he can see over his O-line,” said Bison nose guard Leevon Perry. “He can see his wide receivers and he has really good feet. I think if we do our job, contain him and don’t let him out of the pocket, we’ll be fine. But if we don’t show up and play, he’ll tear us apart.”

Earl has started seven games completing 155 of 288 passes for 1,819 yards. He has nine touchdown passes but has thrown seven interceptions. Perhaps his coming-out moment was leading the Coyotes to a come-from-behind double overtime win at Northern Iowa last month.

He had 325 yards passing last week against South Dakota State.

“He has a good feel for the game and he has experience now,” said USD head coach Joe Glenn. “Some of his (mistakes) came early on, but he’s guarded the football well and he’s made good decisions.”

NDSU’s Smith moving up

on all-time receptions chart

Bison receiver Ryan Smith needs three catches to move into fourth place on the NDSU all-time receptions list. T.R. McDonald had 134 from 1990-93.

Not bad for a player who came to NDSU as a North Dakota high school all-state running back. Smith was switched to receiver his sophomore season. He was mostly a kick returner as a freshman.

“At first it was really hard,” he said of moving to receiver. “But without position coach (Kenni Burns), I wouldn’t be anything. He’s done a great job helping me with the transition and getting ready to play.”

Smith, by the way, will be back returning punts today. He hasn’t done that since spraining an ankle against Indiana State four weeks ago. NDSU had an open week the following week and Smith did not play against Illinois State two weeks ago.

“I’ve been doing it for three years, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Coyotes finishing tough

stretch in their schedule

USD has the 12th-toughest schedule in the FCS in rankings released by the NCAA and the toughest in the Missouri Valley. It’s hard to argue that as the Coyotes will be playing their fifth top-20 opponent in the last six games.

The stretch started Oct. 19 when Northern Iowa was still ranked 13th. Only Illinois State in the last month was not ranked, although the Redbirds were in the polls earlier in the season.

The Bison game today is also a chance for people to measure USD’s improvement from a year ago when the Bison blitzed them 54-0 in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Etc. etc. etc.

E The Salvation Army will have three kettles on site at the Fargodome today as part of its annual Christmas campaign.

E NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen was named a College Sporting News national “All-Star” for his performance against Youngstown State last week. He tied Armanti Edwards for most victories by an FCS quarterback with 43 in throwing a career-high four touchdown passes.

E USD linebacker Tyler Starr needs one quarterback sack to become the school’s all-time leader with 28. He leads the Missouri Valley in sacks with 9.0 and tackles for lost yardage with 15.0.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia