The good, not so good, and now what

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Today, UND lost to NDSU 38-7, a score pretty well within the range of what was predicted. Thanks to Sam Herder and my work with Hero Sports we were able to be there to cover the yearly renewal of what hopes to be the biggest rivalry in FCS football once again. My recap featuring an exploit the Bison found in the UND defense and how they utilized their talented starter at Quarterback, Trey Lance, will be on Hero Sports tomorrow, and again big thanks to Sam and Brian McLaughlin for trusting us to represent them today at the Fargodome.

All of those intros included, let’s now turn our focus to the visitors, UND.

What went well 

Part of the reason NDSU ran the edge so much was because Donnell Rodgers had the middle locked down for UND. Remember when he was lost for the season in 2017 after an injury against Missouri State? Well I do and teams had the middle of the field more open to run on a UND team that projected better than it finished due in part to Rodgers not patrolling the middle. Point being that his presence helped sure up in between the tackles for UND.

On offense, Andrew Zimmerman, new starter, looked really good for having his first start come in the Fargodome. He did overthrow some deep balls and NDSU made him pay twice for some errors of his with well earned INT’s but Zimmerman can make most throws and has some mobility to boot. Maybe losing Nate Ketteringham will not hurt the team if Zimmerman can step up.

These are the two biggest positives I think UND fans can take away from this one at the Fargodome.

The not so good

NDSU is still really really good at FCS Football, that has not changed since the 2015 game against NDSU and will not change for a while, to say the least. When you make mistakes against this team, they make you pay more than anyone else at this level as shown by the results of every missed tackle just to name one area.

NDSU is the 1927 Yankees of FCS College Football in terms of sheer dominance at the point of attack, especially at the line of scrimmage, and today was unfortunately no different. UND got some pressure on Lance, but needed more.

On special teams, whomever is kicking off for UND needs to consistently hit touch backs. The Bison routinely started a little closer to their goal because neither kicker of UND could consistently hit the ball in the endzone when it mattered most.

On offense, the power jet sweeps this team seems to run more of now stopped working real quick after they started. To run laterally against NDSU with any success you need not only fast players which UND has a few of, but an ability to run consistently up the middle, which UND did not have much of today. While UND will go back to this concept as they should, they need to run some more variations of it to keep the other team guessing. The Bison did not have to guess much today on defense.

Now What 

This team has one week to get ready for another potential shootout with the Bearkats of Sam Houston State. The Potato Bowl will feature two 1-1 teams looking for a win in what could be a theoretical elimination game from playoff consideration for the loser. UND did put some good things on film today in the quick passing game and in making UND run Lance everywhere. The problem came because they could not risk containing Lance or putting a spy on him too much lest they risk one of the other talents the Bison have burning them.

Do I think this team could beat NDSU if we played this game again in the playoffs? Yes, but the task is quite long and no teams have had success doing that for the past few  years.

Do I think, more importantly, if UND can beat Sam Houston State at home? Yes I do, however this team cannot get into a track meet with the Bearkats lest they give up 50 quick points on defense.

Is this coaching staff still capable of greatness? 

100 percent yes. Under Bubba Scheweigert progress in the culture has been improved dramatically which combined with better recruiting helps every part of the program. They do not play the games, they gameplan for them. Today, that plan gave this team a chance but even if the score remained, this team needs to be able to consistently adjust.

While I love opening the playbook under Freund, I would like to see a few more different looks and things we have not seen yet to see how this team runs the entire offense. I think the former UND Quarterback has a few more tricks up his sleeve, deployment of said tricks are quite essential.

In addition, next week for this team on defense, the Bearkats are going to air the ball out. If the defenders can get some more help in the second level to keep 5-8 yard gains to tackle on first contact, then next week at the Alerus Center could produce a good result.

 

 

 

 

 

Regarding the Bison

This week, the Fighting Hawks face the toughest test they will face all year. For all of the new things the Bison of North Dakota State have, new coach, new starter, a lot of seniors to replace, they are still the best team at this level until someone proves otherwise. This is an opinion piece, from green-and-white tinted glasses but will also be realistic about what I think will take place on Saturday.

First off, do I think this game will be closer than the current aggregate spread of 28-31 points? Yes I do. If we see Andrew Zimmerman able to deliver the same zip on his passes he did when called upon against Drake, and if the defense can stymie red-shirt freshman Trey Lance with the bevy of different looks he will face, then the Fighting Hawks will make this game more interesting than the Bison faithful would like to see, and provide some hope for the first playoff entry since 2016 for UND.

Does that mean I expect the upset heard ’round the state to happen Saturday in Fargo? No, and let me elaborate on that a little bit.

I have seen Trey Lance play in person, mind you it was last year after the Bison had the game on lock down against a transitioning North Alabama side, but he can run the rock. Having a dual threat QB under center, combined with the consistently good Bison running attack is tough to game plan against. If Trey Lance can develop his lateral quickness a bit over his next four years in Fargo, he could rightly draw a few Lamar Jackson comparisons for his ability to deceive defenses and throw the ball combined with superb speed.

In addition, whenever I have seen the Bison play I am drawn to the skills of one player on defense. Their otherworldly good linebacker Jabril Cox who reminds me of a lot of professionals playing in the NFL right now. Cox  flies around the Bison defense and routinely lays out the unfortunate souls who cross his path. Until the Bison are beat in the division one era by the Fighting Hawks, they will hold the mantle of best program in UND, and for a little after that.

Does that mean this blog is an NDSU Blog? Also no

I will be writing a recap on Saturday for Hero Sports and tweeting in-game on the Seamore Sports account. I will focus on the game and what it means for both teams, combined with the great atmosphere I will expect to see in Fargo on Saturday. Now that both teams will be in the Missouri Valley Football conference next year, the football rivalry that divides yet unites this state is back on, hopefully for good. North Dakota and college football are better off when these two teams play each other, and thankfully as of next year, that will be the default.

Prediction ( which will probably not be the final score so take it for what it’s worth) 

NDSU 38

UND 14

The result we all see in the box score will not indicate how the game goes. I think in terms of pace, if UND can start fast early (a tough ask) they will trade scores with the Bison for a bit before NDSU goes on a three or four score run to end the game.

 

Sound start: UND Football takes opener 47-7

(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.

Going Forward 

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.

 

 

 

UND Comes Up Short Against Idaho State 25-19: Three Thoughts

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

Yesterday for the combined Potato Bowl and Homecoming game, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks looked good in the first quarter. The offense went a perfect five-for-five on third downs. The defense combined with a roaring crowd kept the Bengals of Idaho State out of the end zone. Two drives resulted in touchdowns, and the defense held the Bengals to two field goals. That was the best quarter of the game for UND. From then on, the game completely changed as UND was only able to convert one third down on their last ten attempts. Here are some thoughts regarding yesterday.

The Good 

Noah Wanzek had another nice game for UND. The Fighting Hawks went to him five times for 109 yards including a nice touchdown in the second quarter. He is building a nice campaign for UND this season and it is good to see him getting these quality looks. In addition, the three UND running backs all had some contribution with John Santiago leading the way on the ground with 111 rushing yards and a touchdown. Brady Oliveira ran over multiple Bengals on his way to an 87 yard ground game.

On defense, especially early, UND was able to get home and generated three sacks on the day. UND’s defensive line and ability to get home without blitzing has and will continue to help them as the year goes forward.

What to Improve This Week

Regarding things to build on, the Fighting Hawks have to work on defending the intermediate pass. When Idaho State head coach Rob Phenicie noted the big day they expected their slot wideout, Michael Dean, to have before the game that made me wonder what teams are seeing in the short and intermediate passing game to give future opponents that impression. He finished the day as the leading wide receiver for either side with nine catches for 130 yards. Dean had the one long play up top for 49 yards, beyond that most of his and the rest of the Bengals’ passing game utilized intermediate plays to challenge the Fighting Hawks.

UND played superb defense in three quarters against arguably one of  the best passing teams in the country, Sam Houston State, on the road last week. What was a point of improvement from that game was either missed tackles in short and intermediate routes that turned into bigger gains, like the game winner to Mitch Guller yesterday. Absent missed tackles, opponents are taking advantage of UND by setting up systems to get the ball out quick to minimize pressure, and utilizing their fastest lateral wide receivers to run a sort of west-coast type offense to beat them.

Absent the intermediate game turning into big plays, UND had a bad game against the run yesterday. It is rare to see such a stout run defense like UND give up 273 yards on the ground to anyone at this level. Idaho State averaged 5.9 yards a carry utilizing quick run-pass-option plays. Ty Flanagan and James Madison were able to find gaps up the middle for a team forced to defend the perimeter routes and limit big plays up top. For the most part, UND defended the deep ball well, but the intermediate and underneath plays often were what did them in from the second quarter onward.

Finally, give credit to Idaho State Quarterback Tanner Guller. He did not give up on more than one play that should have been sacks for UND. He is tough to bring down, and turned multiple negative plays into short gainers for the Bengals.

What Now for UND?

Now UND has to get ready for Northern Colorado next weekend. The Fighting Hawks travel to take on a Bears team that is 0-4 to start the season. Looking a bit more into their record, they had a close call against upstart McNeese State to open things up, losing 17-14.

Regardless of the opponent, UND has a formula that they have shown can keep them competitive with anyone. This team still has a stout run defense and front line that will keep them in every game. They have a quarterback in Nate Ketteringham that can make any throw presented to him. Finally, they have a superb backfield which can run through or past any team that sets up superb play-action opportunities throughout every game.

If UND can contain teams that like to spread the ball around and force teams to either run through them or throw over them then the rest of the year could look more like the first quarter yesterday, not the last three.

 

UND-Idaho State: Three Things

Today, UND takes on Idaho State in the Homecoming and Potato Bowl combined game here at the Alerus Center. Here are some thoughts on today for both teams, this should be a good test for the Fighting Hawks to see where they are a week after upsetting a superb Sam Houston State team on the road. For Idaho State, this will be their Big Sky opener and their first gauge of where they stand in the conference. While UND is an independent, this game matters a lot to a Bengals team who under second year coach Rob Phenicie look to make it to the top of the Big Sky.

Guarding the Gullers 

Junior quarterback Tanner Guller and his brother, junior wide reciever Mitch lead the way for the Bengals on offense. Scheme wise, his ability to create big plays will go a long way to determining the outcome of the game today. Mitch is a big play wideout for the Bengals with proven ability to create big plays. Coming into this game, 26 of his 82 catches have gone for more than 20 yards. How UND defends the short and intermediate routes and its ability to make first tackles will go a long way to determining the outcome of this one.

Delivering in the Diamond

UND’s utilization of all three running backs this season at once has been something fun to watch. John Santiago, James Johanneson, and Brady Oliveira have looked superb when together. This formation, combined with increased utilization of its tight ends and different looks have given the offense a fresh flavor this season. This look gives UND a lot more ways to utilize its running game, and has created a lot more chances for the occasional play action pass to stretch the defense.

Can the Jets Fly?

UND has a few receivers (jets) capable of breakthrough speed. Look for Izzy Adeoti’s reps and involvement to keep going up as his speed and difference-making ability becomes more evident each week. In addition, Cam McKinney provides a nice compliment to the possession wideouts that get the start for UND today. These two wideouts will be called on more as the year goes to make some different plays and open up things for their running backs.

Look for more today on this key game for both sides as UND faces all Big Sky Schools for the rest of the regular season.

UND Football: Three Thoughts After Hawks Soar Past the Bearkats

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

Yesterday, UND was able to head down to Huntsville, Texas and knock off a top five opponent in the Bearkats of Sam Houston State. A lot of good things happened for UND in this one, and some things happened that they will want to adress before playing another team in Idaho State at home that runs a similar quick-strike offense to the Bearkats. This 24-23 win puts the Fighting Hawks in the playoff discussion, but they need to follow up their arguably biggest non-conference non-FBS win in the Bubba Schweigert era with a continued emphasis on improvement and development for the win to have an even bigger relevance come playoff time.

The Good 

Starting quarterback, Nate Ketteringham can make most throws in this pro-style offense. During the game-winning drive alone he made a superb, high-lofting throw to Izzy Adeoti to put UND in position for the touchdown to Noah Wanzek. The 48 yard pass was perfectly lofted in between two Sam Houston State defenders. Adeoti timed his route perfectly and made a superb catch between two defenders, helping get UND into position for the go ahead fade in the end zone to Wanzek a few plays later.

Tank Harris lived up to his nickname yesterday. He was in the middle of a lot of strong play for the Fighting Hawks up front. His high motor is fun to watch on a weekly basis. His compete level, combined with the amount of reps he will get against Idaho State will make for an interesting facet to next week. UND being able to generate pressure with its defensive line alone, lead by Tank, helps the secondary get more options to cover another fast team in Idaho State.

One more positive area for UND out of yesterday, the running backs. We all know UND has a strong running game that relies on John Santiago, James Johannesson, and Brady Oliveira. What was nice to see yesterday in particular was the balance and the rush per carry average, everyone in this rotation averaged at least 4.1 yards per carry, over a first down per three carries. The diamond formation this team has employed combined with its lateral quickness with players like Adeoti have provided a needed wrinkle to utilize all three rushers in more ways this year.

Things to Build Upon

Penalties, while UND did a lot of things right yesterday, penalties and cleaning up some things are always a thing this staff wants to build upon. If UND can limit their penalties to less than one per quarter I think absent playing penalty free that this staff would like those numbers.

On defense, UND’s secondary had a superb day yesterday in the fourth quarter and first half. One thing I would like to see the team build on is defending the quick pass and lateral plays in general. They had multiple missed tackles yesterday on short passes that lead to big Bearkat gains. Also, these short passes are not a Bearkats only feature. Mississippi Valley State generated all of its offense through quick passes against the Fighting Hawks. Washington had 437 yards through the air on 45 attempts. That being said, the secondary has gotten better each week defending against big plays. Now locking down some more underneath routes and limiting gains are the next step for this continuously developing defensive backfield.

Regarding the Bengals

Idaho State played FBS foe California tough. The Bears knocked off the Bengals 45-23. That being said, the Bengals were able to put up 319 total yards of offense in a balanced attack. Idaho State’s quick strike offense will be another issue for the Fighting Hawks. The Bengals run some of the same setups that Sam Houston does.That being said, UND now has a lot of experience facing spread-type offenses that like to push the tempo. On a friendly field for homecoming six days from today, the experience UND has gained in their first three tests will benefit them against Idaho State. When the crowd is on the Fighting Hawks’ side, it just comes down to defense. If UND can turn a few first down potential passes into small gains and force third-and-long scenarios, then with a boisterous Alerus Center crowd, good things can happen for the Fighting Hawks.

UND is definitely “in” the playoff conversation now. That being said, how long they stay “in” the conversation is dependent on what they can do the rest of the way. That all starts this upcoming weekend as the Fighting Hawks defend the Alerus Center for the first time in three weeks on Saturday against Idaho State.

 

 

 

35-7: How Tonight’s Score Does Not Tell the Whole Story for MVSU

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons – FightingHawks.com)

When I talked to Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils’ Head Coach Vincent Dancy a few weeks ago, he wanted to see what type of team he would have this season. Well the Delta Devils found out a few things about their team tonight in Grand Forks.

Despite the 35-7 final score, MVSU found that they can compete with the teams they play. Dancy, and starting quarterback Chris Fowler noted their ability to utilize their superb passing game to move the ball as needed. He finished the night 22-39 with 263 yards and a touchdown pass to Demarcu Fraizer. The senior corps of wideouts for the Delta Devils will be their strength on offense this season,They made play after play tonight and did not drop a ball.

Fowler’s ability to find Frazier, Booker Chambers, and Quinn McElfresh among others will determine a lot about the 2018 Delta Devils and their performance in the SWAC. Chambers impressed me with his ability to create big plays both in the slot and in special teams. He finished the night with 150 total all purpose yards.

Head Coach Dancy noted some more things. The Delta Devils left according to him 17 points on the board as they gave up a fumble on the UND goal line, a missed 29 yard field goal, and not being able to punch in the best kick return of the night from Booker Chambers which only went for 79 yards. In addition, the Delta Devils played a tough game on defense and forced UND to run the ball frequently. Despite the final statistics, they do not tell the entire story for this team. While UND was able to move the ball, Coach Dancy’s defense forced some mistakes and made UND make plays to beat them. UND is one of the toughest teams MVSU will play this season. For Coach Dancy to take this team in his first game as their leader, and help keep them in it through three quarters and competitive throughout should leave MVSU fans with hope for the future of the Dancy Era.

One thing that stood out to me was at the end of the game. From the press box it looked like Fowler was motioning for the punt team to stay off the field to punt to UND to end the game. The team still punted but the body language of the Delta Devils showed me something tonight. This team traveled across the country to open up another season in North Dakota and handled themselves well. They played a team with a superb pass rush, running back trio, and talented wideouts just to name a few of their high-skilled areas, and hung with them.

MVSU still has things to work on this week, of course, if they can convert on half of their chances that they create they will be in more games in SWAC play and beyond. This bodes well for the future of what Dancy wants to do. He has instilled a complete culture of competition and 100 percent energy as a basic expectation in Itta Bena. As Fowler said of Dancy, “he treats us like champions.”  That showed in every aspect of how the Delta Devils warmed up and played tonight. If the MVSU that went five for seven in converting third downs in the first half can repeat the things that drive them against Jacksonville State and beyond, then good things both this year and long term could await one of the most storied schools in the country regarding developing top-tier NFL talent.

 

 

MVSU-UND Preview: An Interview with First Year MVSU Coach Vincent Dancy

In just three weeks, UND Football will open its 2018 campaign against the Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) Delta Devils at home in front of a raucous Alerus Center. I reached out to first year Head Coach Vincent Dancy for his thoughts on taking the MVSU job, what he is hoping to accomplish this season, and more. Check here for some thoughts from Clarion-Ledger reporter Tyler Cleveland on what to expect from MVSU this season, and what the Delta Devils should focus on as they prepare to make the trek north.

  1. What inspired you to take this job as head coach?
    • “I’ve always dreamed of being a head coach plus the rich tradition that MVSU has had in the past years made this job more appealing.”
  2. What type of style does your team play?
    • “Offensively we play a high tempo ground and pound system with multiple formations. Defensively we are an even front team with multiple coverages in the secondary.”
  3. Long-term, what is your vision of Delta Devils Football?
    • “My vision for Delta Devils Football [involves four areas].
      • For every athlete to complete their degree requirements.
      • To establish the football [team] as a consistent winner.
      • For [the] MVSU Football program to be one of the leaders in FCS attendance.
      • To win the Celebration Bowl.”
  1. What do you look to gain from your trip to Grand Forks?
    • “I look to gain a clear cut identity of who we are heading into the 2018 season.”
  2. Your offense features preseason 1st team all-conference wideout Quinn McElfresh. What do you expect him to bring to this team both on and off the field this year?
    • “Quinn is a special football player and our team knows that but we expect him to be more vocal and lead us on and off the field.”
  3. What does 1st team all- conference linebacker Patrick Harbin bring to the defense?
    • “Experience- Patrick has been in the program 4 years now and has been a contributor 3 of those years. So his knowledge of the game should help us out tremendously.”
  4. Who is one standout freshman fans should keep an eye on this season?
    • “Caleb Johnson, He’s a dynamic RB from Memphis, TN who can do a lot of things very well out of the back field.”
  5. What is your goal for this season?
    • “My goal is to have a first-class team and image in everything we do. Also, to be competitive in conference play and win games we are favored to win.”
  6. What does the program’s legacy mean to you, especially regarding helping 21 players get drafted by NFL teams?
    • “That’s one reason why I wanted this job. The legacy that Coach Archie Cooley, Willie Totten and Jerry Rice established here will forever be remembered. Also Deacon Jones, who invented the term “sack” will always be glorified as long as there is football being played!”
  7. What is the one thing you would tell fans in Grand Fork that they may not know about MVSU Football?
    • “That we’re hungry and ready like never before!”

UND Football:Getting to Know an Opponent-Mississippi Valley State

In a few weeks, on a Thursday night in Grand Forks, the UND Fighting Hawks will end their fall camp and take on the Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) Delta Devils in the Alerus Center. Given how little of the Devils’ conference that UND fans have seen come to Grand Forks, it made sense to check in with one of the people who cover this team on a more frequent basis. I had some questions about MVSU, and the town of Itta Bena, MS where the school is located for one of the writers who covers this team for the Clarion Ledger, Tyler Cleveland. Look for more coverage from Seamore of UND Football with insights on the team in the weeks leading up to this game and throughout the season.

The Delta Devils are lead by first year coach, Vincent Dancy. He takes over a team that won two games last year. MVSU finished 2-9 last season including a 1-6 record in the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC).

Below are my questions for Tyler with his answers included. For UND fans looking to understand more about the SWAC, give Tyler and the Clarion-Ledger a follow on Twitter and read his and work, he goes into depth into MVSU, Jackson State, and Alcorn State, three SWAC programs filled with tradition in their programs.

Questions 

How long of a rebuild do you expect MVSU to go through?

“I don’t want to put a number of years on it, but let’s just say first-year coach Vincent Dancy has his work cut out for him. There are no magic buttons to push when you take over a program that is 3-30 over the past three years, and Dancy wasn’t on anyone’s short list when Valley started the hiring process. He’s a great communicator and solid X’s and O’s coach, but he doesn’t have the built in recruiting connections the other two in-state SWAC schools have. He’ll need to develop some pipelines of his own, and quick.”

Do you see any similarities in coach Dancy taking over now to when Bubba Schweigert took over in 2014?

“I can see the similarities there. Both of their predecessors had struggled against the big boys in their respective conferences. Valley couldn’t get past Southern and Grambling the same way UND had struggled with Montana and Eastern Washington. Both landed their job by presenting a plan to get over that hump. The most glaring difference, to me, is the age difference. Schweigert took the Dakota job at 55. Dancy is one of the youngest head coaches in the country at 33.”

What do you think went into MVSU having a number of players drafted, and how much exposure to pro scouts do the Delta Devils get.

“From its inception until the early 1990s, MVSU had a great tradition of producing NFL players. Deacon Jones helped redefine the defensive end position in the 1960s, and the 49ers drafted some guy named Jerry Rice out of Itta Bena in 1985. Corner Ashley Ambrose was the last Delta Devil to get drafted in 1992. Thanks to the recruiting services like Rivals and Scout, those kinds of guys are no longer getting overlooked by the Mississippi States and Ole Misses of the world.”

When fans head down south to Itta Benna, MS, what is one area of that town they should see?

“Well don’t blink, or you might miss it. Itta Bena is as small-town Mississippi as it gets, with mosquitoes the size of aircraft carriers. Your best bet for food is probably Capricorn’s Internet Café, or you could treat yourself with a visit to Lusco’s for some seafood in nearby Greenwood.”

Why do you think coach Dancy was elevated to full-time head coach?

“Recruiting to Itta Bena is tough. MVSU has the smallest athletic budget of any school in Division 1 and the Delta Devils have not had any real success on the football field in more than a decade. Rather than go out and hire a more experienced coach, Athletic Director Dianthia Ford-Kee decided to go with the younger, more charismatic Dancy. They are banking on his ability to connect with recruits and raise the talent level.”

What type of offense does MVSU run?

“Dancy wants to run the football. The Delta Devils have been running an old June Jones-style run-and-shoot offense – I guess they call it the air raid now – for the past three seasons with little success. They still want to spread it out, but they’re going to try to use the run and intermediate passing game to set up play action opportunities.”

Based on your January piece from when Coach Dancy was elevated to the head coach role, how creative has coach Dancy been in selling his vision for the Delta Devils given the financial constraints of MVSU.

“The short answer is that he desperately needs to win some games so he has something to sell besides a vision. He’s had to be pretty creative this season in terms of recruiting – taking a hyper-local approach and spending a lot of time at Mississippi’s junior colleges.”

Tell us a bit more about the two preseason all conference players the Delta Devils have, wideout Quinn McElfresh and linebacker Patrick Harbin.

“Well Quinn’s a hard-worker from your neck of the woods, up in Brainerd, Minnesota. He’s not a true deep threat, but he was the guy in former coach Rick Comegy’s pass-happy offense last year because of his route-running ability and good hands. Harbin isn’t physically overwhelming, but he can really run and just seems to be in the pile at the end of every play.”

What are some of coach Dancy’s goals for his first camp as the head coach?

“He wants to change the culture and put his stamp on the program, but those things take time. In terms of camp, he just wants to identify leaders early on, find his best 22 players, then his second-best 22 players and try to find a way to put them in a position to be successful. It really is that simple right now.”

Do you think that Delta Devils bring their marching band north for this game?

“They will if it’s in the contract. And if it is, ya’ll are in for a treat.”

What are MVSU’s biggest concerns that the Fighting Hawks present as well as MVSU’s biggest strengths that the Fighting Hawks could overlook?

“Valley has really struggled to protect its quarterback over the past couple of seasons, and to disastrous results. The Delta Devils averaged around -10 rushing yards a game last season – that’s no typo – and it’s not like they’ve upgraded at all five offensive line positions since then. Pass rushers like Mason Bennett and Jaxson Turner might be able to make a living in MVSU’s backfield, and that’ll make it a long game for the Delta Devils.”

 

 

Hawks Fly to the Playoffs-What Now?

After UND’s Big Sky Championship, and a 9-2 record, what do they need to do to advance in the FCS playoffs? Here are some of my quick thoughts.

 

  1. Start Strong
    1. Many times this season UND has had to come back to finish out key victories. Often times UND has played a 30 or 45 minute game and stil come out on top. The Hawks have been better as of late but will nto be able to get away with any slow starts in the playoffs.
  2. Feed Thunder and Lightning
    1. Make sure that Brady Olivera and John Santiago get at least 15 touches each. Both  running backs have proven to be effective for UND this season and both bring different strengths to the game. Santiago will make you miss while Brady will run you over.
  3. Keep the Defense on the Sidelines
    1. If the UND offense can control the ball for at least 35 minutes I believe it has a chance to go far. The UND defense has been at its best when it has had a chance to rest and rotate players in and out. If Richmond has the ball for more than 35 minutes the path will become tougher.