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.

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.”

 

 

UND Football 2017: A Look at the Culture Bubba Has Built

UND has not had the best results on the football field.The Fighting Hawks finished 3-8 this season. However, Fighting Hawks fans, do not let the record fool you. This program is fully committed to building up its own culture and the past season does not change that.This team has shown it can bounce back even within the season. One example of this is its home win against Northern Colorado after a tough road loss the week prior. The coaching staff has done a relentless marketing  job of this program . Below are a few reasons why fans can remain confident in UND and this coaching staff despite the record not being what anyone wanted coming off of a Big Sky Championship.

The Coaching Staff Recruiting Fans and Players Alike

Coaches have to recruit and build the program right? Yes, of course, but one thing that changed  out of necessity after the Mussman years was more recruiting not just of players, but of fans.

That has completely changed since Bubba Schweigert became head coach at UND. His entire staff is an incredibly visible presence in the community. Every time I have seen any of them at a hockey game or any other UND event they are always supporting their fellow athletic programs.

In addition, very rare is a Friday before a home game that Bubba does not take a stack of tickets, and head to the quad behind the library and interact with a lot of students, and hand out all of his tickets.

This, in turn, has lead to a complete revitalization of the student section. Now, the students have often helped lead chants and pump up the crowd which has, in-turn caused numerous crowd-induced penalties and timeouts over the years.

Bubba’s staff has turned the Alerus Center back into the tough place to play it once was during UND’s Division Two days.

One final example of this culture change, is Bubba’s assistants helping out. It was quite impressive to see assistant coach Travis Stepps handing out tickets to studying students in the Memorial Union this past Thursday imploring them to come. Everyone on Bubba’s staff has bought into the holistic recruiting that had to take place to win back fans and recruits.

The Next Man Up Mentality 

Throughout this year, from star defensive back Deion Harris being out for the season, to losing senior QB Keaton Studsrud for a couple of points in time due to injuries, no one on this team has used injuries as an excuse. The best example of this is at the middle linebacker where it has used more than three players as its projected starters were out due to injury.

Because of these increased reps to all of the backups coming into the season, players like safety Jordan Canady and all of UND’s backup offensive lineman that had to play will be more ready to shoulder the load heading into next season. These tough reps now will pay benefits to UND in the future as it plays a tough independent schedule the next few years before heading into the SEC of FCS Football, the Missouri Valley.

One Final Thing

Fighting Hawks fans, this year has been tough. No one,especially this coaching staff, is happy with a team that finishes 3-8 after winning a championship.

However, as some of you are seeing with the Green Bay Packers, the team looks a bit different without Aaron Rodgers leading things right? Is it fair to say that no matter how good things are with their backups in, that they have to develop and learn their games with reps to improve? I think so, and now Green Bay can have a better setup in the future as they now have had to gameplan without their star.

UND has had that problem with a lot of its positions this year as more than half of its projected starters have not played, or have stopped playing due to injury.

This staff took over a 3-8 program , and lead it to a playoff berth a short three years later. Let’s see what this talented staff of Bubba Schweigert can do in the offseason to bring in some depth in areas of need, and develop its current corps of returners. This program is in a completely different state than it was after its last 3-8 season. Do not let a copious amount of injuries change your mind on that fact.

This past week, Bubba noted his thanks for the atmosphere at the game and how the fans reacted. He lamented that his team could not do enough to keep the fans in the game. For next year, look for more changes from the UND roster to stay competitive with the tough independent schedule it will play.

One thing that will remain the same is the dedicated staff Bubba has to help him sell his vision of day-by-day, tough, hard working football to fans here in Grand Forks. UND fans want to see winning football. This staff has an offseason to bring that back to Grand Forks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

UND Football- Three Thoughts

Another week , another key win for the Fighting Hawks in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time since joining the Big Sky Conference in 2012. Here are some thoughts about the tough win against Weber State and what needs to happen to win against Northern Colorado.

  1. If there was a defensive coordinator of the year award, Eric Schmidt deserves it. The Hawk defense consistently generates turnovers and high percentage scoring chances for the offense. Last week with four takeaways is another prime example of this. Schmidt and his staff have developed standouts at every level of the defense from Tank Harris on the defensive line to Cole Reyes in the secondary. Do not forget about Taj Rich as well. This UND defense will be the reason UND makes or does not make the playoffs.
  2. Kickoff coverage needs to improve and the placekicking needs to get better. Weber had multiple long returns on short kicks. If UND wants to keep doing sky kicks it should not tip its hand like the good folks at Sioux Football Insider noted they were doing during last week’s game. line up in an even formation and sky the ball. Do not stack one side because as noted, Weber routinely had extra blockers compared to UND’s actual coverage on the kickoff side.
  3. No matter who plays quarterback look for a west coast style of quick runs and short passes against Northern Colorado. If UND can run the ball and pass with some efficiency at a 60/40 clip then they will improve from the Weber State game. It will allow them to feature all three running backs and not allow UNC to stack the box then good things can happen. If UND can play strong defense and improve slightly on offense with a measure of unpredictability, then good things can happen this Saturday in Greeley.

 

 

UND Football 3 Thoughts-On to the Hornets

After a key win over Cal Poly at home, UND football heads out west to take on Sacramento State. Here are some thoughts on the game last week, and this week.

  1. Eric Schmidt needs a pay raise. The Fighting Hawks’ defensive coordinator has completely made over this defense from its Pre-Bubba (head coach Bubba Schweigert) days. UND swarmed Cal Poly all day and forced them to completely alter their gameplan. The strong play of defensive tackle Tank Harris forced Cal Poly into more passing situations. In addition, Deion Harris has played so well this season that Cal Poly exclusively focused on Torrey Hunt’s side. This allowed UND to dial up more blitzes and rush Cal Poly’s timing.
  2. Keaton Studsrud is slowly getting better in first quarters. This was his best week as UND played turnover free in the first quarter and set itself up to do well in the rest of the game. Keaton did all this with a backup center and a patchwork offensive line.
  3. Give Brady Olivera 25 or more carries every week. Give John Santiago 15-20 when he is healthy and split him out wide more. Olivera is playing the best football of his career. His run where he absolutely ran over a defensive lineman reminded me of Marshawn Lynch’s bruising run against the Saints in the 2011 NFL Playoffs. Olivera’s play is reminiscent of Lynch, strong in space with a quick burst and the ability to generate enormous yards after contact. If UND runs formations with Santiago at the wing and Olivera in the back field, defense becomes much harder for the opposition. Who do you target? The guy that can make you miss or the guy that can run you over? If Santiago plays more wideout with Olivera as a running back, this opens up a new dimension for UND. They could even run a triple option out of a non-traditional triple option formation.

Three Thoughts-UND Football

Time for another three thoughts on UND Football going forward after a tough 17-15 win in Bozeman over Montana State. UND takes on the high-motor triple option offense of Cal Poly next weekend at the Alerus Center. The Mustangs upset the number six team in the country this weekend. I will repeat myself multiple times regarding one thing. Anyone who can be in the Alerus Center needs to go and stay all 60 minutes. UND needs all the support it can get from the community.

Here are some thoughts on this past weekend and Cal Poly this weekend.

  1. UND must improve its first quarters. Every week UND has either squandered chances or been forced to play catch up from its poor first quarter showings. This past weekend it started off on the wrong foot by fumbling on its opening drive. This only cost them three points.
  2. Keaton Studsrud has to have a better showing this weekend. Every week he seems to miss three to five open wideouts. If Keaton can play a full 60 minutes UND will be able to counter the running game of Cal Poly with simple ball control. A strong offense with a diverse playbook is the best counter for the triple option. In addition, if Studsrud has a stronger game it will open up more opportunities for UND’s strong running back duo of Brady Olivera and John Santiago.
  3. UND’s defense has carried them this season. The Fighting Hawks have one of if not the best defenses in the country. Eventually the offense has to step up and mount more than one or two sustained drives throughout the game. Cal Poly is a strong enough team to keep the scenario of another South Dakota like comeback from happening again. If the offense can possess the ball for more than half of the game, UND has a much better chance of winning. This is the toughest opponent UND has played so far, UND needs all the help it can get. This is true from both the offense and the fans. If UND gets a packed Alerus Center for all 60 minutes it will help its cause. UND students once again need to show up, be loud and respectful, and stay all 60 minutes. The Fighting Hawks’ wins have not been easy but the games have been fun for all 60 minutes.