(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)
The University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks Football team had a lot of questions around it going into this season. First among those concerns is the offense. Under new offensive coordinator Danny Freund how would an offense built around speed and tempo fare. Well we got our answer against a Pioneer League team with a first year coach. The offense put up a whopping 437 total yards on the day and was able to engineer a smooth second half after a slow start.
The defense played relatively well all game, and were lead by their speed rushers, Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner off the edge that made life miserable for Drake’s true freshman quarterback starting his first college game, Ian Corwin.
One concern for the Fighting Hawks to keep an eye on on the offensive side of the ball is the health of starter Nate Ketteringham. He left after a knee injury and his backup Andrew Zimmerman finished the game. He did put up multiple strong throws to engineer the bulk of the second half production for the Fighting Hawks as they used a 35 point second half to cruise to their 47-7 victory over the Bulldogs. The offense featured multiple gadget plays throughout this one, including a reverse flea flicker and wideout pass by Noah Wanzek that drew a defensive pass interference call.
With all of that being said let’s look at some good from today, and concern areas for next week as UND faces their best opponent they will play all season on the road in Fargo, the Bison of North Dakota State. The defending national champions play a relentless physical style of football that no other team can truly prepare you to face.
What Went Right
This offense under Freund’s tutelage is 100 percent different than where it ended last season. He has called it a power spread offense and today we saw what that means. You will still see UND run the ball, but it will be from the shotgun a lot of times. What that allowed UND to do was utilize a lot of different looks and test out players in different positions.
Seeing Zimmerman be able to come in for an injured Ketteringham and deliver multiple perfectly thrown balls to spur the majority of that prolific second half, provides some reassurance going into the NDSU game next weekend. In addition, the offensive line played quite well no matter who was in and stymied what Drake wanted to run with their pressure schemes.
What to improve on
This section will be very granular about the game against Drake, however this is not so much meant to harp on things from a big win as it is pointing out a few things to keep an eye on going forward.
The defensive line depth will be the biggest issue this defense faces all year. I am by no means the first person to say that, as Tom Miller of the Grand Forks Herald and the folks at UND Football 360 noted the depth of this group as an issue. Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner are great and both had wonderful games. Beyond them, up the middle this team will have a lot to prove against the superb ground game of the Bison next weekend.
In addition, this team has to do better when it has momentum on its side. Multiple games in FCS football today changed on a dime because teams let their opponent hang around. Drake hung around through the first half being within two touchdowns. While I think Drake will play quite well in the Pioneer League this season, UND has to put together a full 60 minutes against whomever they play. If this team cannot put a full game together it does not have a lot of a chance against the Bison.
Can this team defeat NDSU? Yes it can. Do they need to play the best game of the Division One era and have a few things go their way to have a chance next week in Fargo? Most definitely. This team will nitpick every aspect of week one in hopes of improving on a few things to make next Saturday in Fargo more interesting than the vast majority of those attending the game will expect it to be.