(Photo Credit: Russell Hons-FightingHawks.com)
Yesterday, in front of a loud group of Alerus Center fans, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks were able to propel themselves back into the playoff picture with a 17-10 win over the Portland State University Vikings. This was a defensive game that featured multiple interceptions, including a game-breaking one from Lenny Nelson IV that sealed the victory for the Fighting Hawks. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jaxson Turner was able to deflect a pass up for Nelson who took it and scampered 58 yards to the end zone for UND. The Fighting Hawks later tacked on a Brady Leach 19 yard field goal to provide the final margin of victory. Here are some thoughts on the win and what to look for next week.
Front Seven Wins Games
Throughout the season, we have seen this theme emerge again and again. Yesterday was no exception to this rule. The Fighting Hawks had five sacks yesterday, and could have had quite a few more. Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander was able to avoid pressures multiple times and capitalize on edges that collapsed in to find openings and escape for positive rushes multiple times. That said, UND did a superb job generating pressure and forcing him to react quickly. Mason Bennett had 1.5 sacks yesterday to move within three sacks of the single season record shared by incumbent defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt and Wes Atkinson. How well UND can get off the ball next weekend and force the issue will go a long way to determining their fate this year.
Playoff Possibilities Pop Up
Coming into yesterday, the Fighting Hawks’ playoff chances took a bit of a hit with their loss last weekend to Idaho. That said, they were able to do their part on the field and took advantage of a wacky day all around the FCS, especially in the Missouri Valley Conference that saw two teams (Western Illinois, and Northern Iowa) fall out of playoff contention with their fifth loses. That said, the Fighting Hawks need to win next week, and assume nothing. A few years ago a strong UND team with an FBS win was unable to get into the field despite a 7-4 record. All this team can do is finish strong against Northern Arizona and wait for their fate to be announced.
Yesterday, UND was limited with what it could do in its passing game as multiple wide receivers (Izzy Adeoti, Garett Maag, and Travis Toivonen) did not play due to injuries. Their leading wide receiver yesterday, Noah Wanzek, only had 57 yards on five catches. Look for UND to utilize all of its running backs next week as they look to use them to be able to open up the passing game a bit more. How often UND throws will be largely contingent on what personnel they have. Should yesterday’s lineup play again, look for another classic run-heavy day to open up the passing game. Yesterday’s play calling combined with previous weeks has taken into account what UND has to work with.
All of these thoughts being taken into account, UND cannot focus on the national picture until they finish up next weekend. A loss to Northern Arizona will end the season of the Fighting Hawks. Winning next week keeps them in strong contention for a playoff spot. How this all shakes out will depend on what the front seven can do, how the offense can adapt, and what happens around the country next week. UND can control only the first two things, and not rely on the final fact to determine their playoff fate. Next week the Fighting Hawks’ season is on the line once again. Hopefully the regular season finale in Flagstaff can turnout fantastic for the Fighting Hawks.